Kingsman: The Secret Service is a 2015 action-comedy film based on the series of comic books The Secret Service by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar. It is directed by Matthew Vaughn and stars Taron Egerton as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, with Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson and Mark Hamill in supporting roles. The film is both a love letter to old James Bond films and a parody of them; the tone of the film is generally over-the-top and comical, thought it does have a few moments with some effective pathos. But mostly it’s just a fun time at the movies; violent, crass, utterly ridiculous, but mostly just fun.
The bulk of Kingman’s plot centers on the recruitment and training of Eggsy by Harry Hart (Firth), a secret agent who goes by the name of “Galahad” in the secret service known as Kingsman. Eggsy is the son of a former Kingsman who was killed on a mission with Hart, shown at the beginning of the film. In the modern day, he is little more than a street punk who is unlikely to go anywhere except for jail (or the morgue) until he calls in a favor from Kingsman as a tribute for his father’s death. After some convincing, Hart convinces him to try his hand at becoming a member of the Kingsman. He is one of several hopefuls that will be replacing Lancelot, an agent who was recently killed in action.
While Eggsy does his training, Galahad picks up where Lancelot left off, following a trail that leads to philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine believes that humans are killing the planet and is looking to build more moral and financial support for a plan that will be extremely harmful to the human race, but hopefully save the planet. With a trademark lisp and a hatred of blood and gore, Valentine is a quirky megalomaniac villain who definitely feels at home in a movie that spoofs so many tropes from spy movies. He also has a female bodyguard named Gazelle whose feet have been replaced by springboard razor blades. In case you hadn’t picked up on the tone of this movie yet.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a movie that I would consider more “good” than “great”, and there’s nothing wrong simply being a good movie. For me, the good far outweighs the bad; there is a lot of good acting here, the action is well shot and memorable, the film’s humor works more often than not, it has some moments with legitimate tension and emotion. The mentor-student relationship between Harry and Eggsy is one of the better takes on this trope I’ve seen in a while; they have good on-screen chemistry and I found it easy to get emotionally invested in that bond. Colin Firth is an actor I have a great deal of respect for, and it was cool to see him thrive in the role of an action star, something he was definitely unproven in.
Eggsy is a very good archetypal character, someone who is living in a bad situation where nothing seems to go right for him; he’s got a lot of edge to him but it’s also obvious that he cares about his mother and his friends. That loyalty, his willingness to fight, and a desire to achieve greatness makes him a hero that is capable of growing; he feels like a completely different character at the start and ending of this film, but not unnaturally so. Taron Egerton is definitely an actor I’ll be keeping an eye on from now on. Similarly, Sophie Cookson was highly entertaining as Roxy Morton, Eggsy’s friend and primary competition for the role of the new Lancelot. I want to see more of her.
Something I do want to address, while being careful not to spoil, is a joke at the end that has generated some controversy among viewers. Being a tribute to and parody of James Bond films, it’s no surprise that sexual conquest is brought up in the movie. Women always threw themselves at Bond, and something similar happens in this film. My view on it is this; people who are offended by a crass joke after two hours of over the top violence and warped humor clearly are in the wrong movie. Secondly, compare the way the male and female characters act in this film compared to how James Bond interacts with say, Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and try to tell me with a straight face that Kingsman’s joke is more sexist.
There’s also a brilliant subversion of “gentleman spy seduces a woman” earlier in the film, and Roxy herself is a character that is never treated as anything less than equal to her peers. I can’t recall a single camera shot that treated her as sexual object, and that’s a good thing.
Overall, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun and solid bit of escapism that I would recommend to fans of the spy genre, fans of good action, and those who enjoy campy and over the top humor. It’s not a movie for everyone, but I think the target audience will find a lot to enjoy.