Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hyperkinetic, hyper-violent, hyper-romantic love letter to the great spy films of old – namely the 60’s era James Bond films. From its chic styles (a gentleman spy is nothing without a proper suit) to its nostalgic gadgetry with modern twists (such as a bullet proof umbrella gun with see-through visor), Kingsman relishes and pays reverence to its roots while firmly establishing a contemporary spin on the genre.
When one of their agents is killed on a routine surveillance/rescue mission to retrieve a kidnapped professor (Mark Hamill), Britain’s “independent international intelligence agency,” Kingsman, tasks its agents to propose suitable replacement recruits. Agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), seeking to repay an old debt, recommends “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a rebellious low-class youth with a penchant for parkour, car chases, and sleight of hand. Meanwhile, billionaire/philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), assisted by the deadly-legged henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), plots total world-domination in grand 007 fashion.
Co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn doesn’t skirt Kingsman‘s homages but rather, quite cleverly, tackles them head on, particularly in one amusing scene where Firth and Jackson debate their childhood inspirations of James Bond and his megalomaniac villains. In these respects, Kingsman is a stylish affair that balances a fine line between adulation and appropriation. What distinguishes the film from its kindred is its frenetic, comic book spirit and its refreshing contortions of conventional cliches (not to mention a penchant for audacious, literal interpretations of cheeky, Roger Moore-esque puns).
Although its cartoonish style and graphic violence may not be suitable for everyone’s palettes, Kingsman sports a number of inventive, dynamic action scenes such as a “gentlemanly” bar fight and, especially, a full on battle in a Southern U.S. church – a scene that makes the term “over-the-top” seem a quaint explication. The film consciously pushes the limits and doesn’t give a damn doing so, effectually rendering irreverent glee (even more so when coupled with its peculiar soundtrack choices).
Between set-pieces, however, Kingsman drags in spots, specifically during various training montages where it takes a turn towards a Harry Potter school for spies approach. While significant to show Egerton’s growth as a character, the film is forced to make contrivances to place its main plot on hold in the meantime. It’s a cheat that doesn’t fully work, yet is far from derailing the picture as a whole.
Overall, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun, but imperfect ride providing a nostalgic blast of old-school inventiveness from a top notch cast and creative team. The stand-out is Colin Firth, himself channeling Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer (1965’s The Ipcress File) with a dash of David Niven, conveying impressive physical prowess whilst keeping his suit suitably prim and proper (despite the bloodbaths surrounding him). In the litany of lighthearted, 007-inspired productions, Kingsman is clearly one of the best, tailor-fit for spy fans everywhere.