The subversive delights of director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman sees them move on from Kick-Ass and superheroes to turn their attention to the world of James Bond and earth-saving secret agents in the fun Kingsman: The Secret Service…
Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s 2014 collaboration (following hits like Kick-Ass and Stardust) is another gleefully subversive genre parody. This time focused on the spy movie, particularly James Bond, Kingsman: The Secret Service is loosely adapted from the little-heard-of comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It sees Colin Firth’s stone-faced secret agent Harry Hart, guilty over the loss of a young agent in a Middle East mission, recruiting the dead man’s son – Taron Egerton’s Eggsy – a kid-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks (otherwise known as the East End of London) into the defiantly secretive organisation of pristinely tailored world-saving gentlemen.
Trouble is, while Eggsy is going through his classes like a player in a young adult fiction origins story, Samuel L. Jackson’s billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine (who would give Dr. Evil a run for his money in megalomaniacal bad decision-making) is working his way to tyrannical domination. Someone has got to stop him and seen as James Bond and Harry Palmer are otherwise preoccupied, the responsibility reverts to Firth’s bespectacled “Kingsman”.
Vaughn and Goldman’s previous collaborations as a writing-directing team have seen them play with genre convention, drawing humour out of throwing expectation back at the audience. It works so well because it’s played straight, the parody cunningly disguised behind self-reference, stylised ultra-violence and the energy of charismatic performance.
It’s all perfectly introduced in the film’s opening chapter which is premised by Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing. A Kingsman does his hostage-saving bit, glibly remarks about the world’s most expensive whiskey, and prepares for a 007-style exit. However, his brash bravura is cut short – as is his breath – when a beautiful henchwoman with no concern for being one of the secret agent’s sexual conquests literally slices him in two with an acrobatic slash from her sword-wielding prosthetic leg. The double-amputee then opens the door to reveal blood-phobic Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine sporting a lisp and oversized baseball cap.
There’s a knowing acknowledgment of cliché throughout the film which gives it some of its biggest laughs, while an appealing self-awareness goes as far as discussing the very films it parodies. Michael Caine even has time to show up in Harry Palmer glasses to direct things from Kingsman HQ. The fun had by the likes of Colin Firth and Mark Strong translates to the audience, their straight-edged professionalism amusingly countered by absurdist violence. And Vaughn certainly cranks up the darker side of Kingsman activities with slow-mo carnage, every bloody impaling and bullet shot framed with a sadist’s eye for detail.
I’m not sure Egerton really convinces as an East End “naughty boy” and Jackson’s lisp feels like a forced attempt to dilute his villainous might but Kingsman: The Secret Service is otherwise a hugely enjoyable alternative to the traditional spy movie. It’ll work just as well for those that love James Bond as those who hate 007’s antics.