The Name’s Firth. Colin Firth.
I’m exhausted. Oscar season, with all of its lists, screenings and rushed reviews, has temporarily put me off movies. January rarely has anything worth watching anyway. Who cares about Jupiter Ascending and I’m only seeing Fifty Shades of Grey if you pay me.
Luckily, there’s always one film that jumps starts my film going year. Last year it was The Lego Movie and this year it’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. A stylishly kinetic nod to the super spy genre, Matthew Vaughn’s (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) fifth feature film is a well shaken martini of action, humor and genuine good times.
Beyond MI6 and the CIA live the Kingsmen, an ultra-secret espionage organization that operates between the cracks of traditional government. When one of their agents go down, it’s up to Harry Hart (codename Galahad, played by Colin Firth) to find his replacement. As Harry grooms a London thug by the name of Eggsy (Taron Egerton) for the role, world renowned philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) sets a plan in motion that threatens civilization as we know it.
As a super slick secret agent, Colin Firth is fantastic. Debonair yet deadly, it’s a wonder Firth hasn’t played this type of role before. He’s also adept at being Eggsy’s father figure as he shows him the ropes. As Firth’s young padawan, Egerton has a boyish charm to counteract his “chav lifestyle” edge. He’s a great fish out of water that gives us a chance to learn about the Kingsmen through his eyes. While a touch insufferable as a young hoodlum, Egerton’s performance keeps us interested in the slightly clichéd story.
The supporting cast runs the gamut from the always reliable Michael Caine as the head Kingsman to Mark Strong’s stern, solid portrayal of Merlin, instructor for the new recruits. The big headline is Samuel L. Jackson as the evil millionaire. With an ear splitting, unfunny lisp and typical over the top delivery, Jackson does what can with an overwritten character.
But this is a Matthew Vaughn movie. Everything, from the action to the language to the sudden, shocking violence, is over-caffeinated and, at times, exhausting. That said, despite his signature “look at me” slow motion action scenes and penchant for senseless shock, Kingsman jells together better than any Vaughn film to date. We didn’t really need a five minute church massacre scene but the execution (no pun intended) is fun enough to accept.
This is largely due to spot on humor and self-awareness. Kingsman is half serious, half spoof and spends a good amount of time parodying the clichés and conventions of spy thrillers. The goons all wear the same uniform, Jackson’s lair is inside a giant mountain and the agents all dress impeccably. While the dozens of Bond references are obvious and at times detract from the story, it’s still a lot of fun.
And that’s the keyword here: fun. I’ll take over the top over boring. I’ll take wonky tone over bland. I’ll take Colin Firth over Christian Grey’s handcuffs any day of the week. Matthew Vaughn is anything but subtle but his loud, brash style works well in the context of an energetic R-rated spy adventure.
Even with some annoying villains and Vaughn’s “look at me, I’m a filmmaker” overindulgence, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a cracking good time. Maybe it’s my Oscar hangover lifting or the benefit of living in a season of dreck, but Colin Firth in a suit doing cool things to bad guys is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Score: 8 out of 10