From the opening scene onwards, there is almost no way to not understand this film is a love letter to the spy/thriller films of the 80s and 90s. And if you still don’t get that by the end of the film, you should have your License to (watch) Film revoked. There is just as much nostalgia here as there was in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, if a little more bloodshed.
Turns out Kingsman is a bespoke tailor shop fronting an incredibly well funded gentleman spy outfit, kept purposefully small so they can forego government intervention and just get to the job at hand – namely saving the world.
The top spy here is Harry Hunt, known as Galahad (they’re all named after knights of the round table – King’s man, get it?) and played by Colin Firth. He’s been around for a while and, due to a pre-credit sequence, owes a debt of life-saving proportion to the actions of a KIA member of the group. Now, 17 years later, this debt has fallen to the now grown son, called Eggsy (relative newcomer Taron Egerton), of the fallen comrade. Harry pays off by saving Eggsy from a prison cell and bringing him into the fold as a Kingsman trainee.
What follows is standard fare training sequences, where we test the mettle and bravado of our heroes, meet Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the plucky girl trainee in the room of guys, as well as discovering the self-righteous prick trainee who we all know will get kicked out at the last minute (and THAT will certainly come back to haunt us). Meanwhile, back in the real world (Yes, this is based on a comic book, why do you ask?) there’s a multi-billionaire tech genius named Valentine (played with an inconsistent lisp by Samuel L. Jackson) who is trying to do evil things in the name of a better world order. By the time the actual Bond references start flying you’re either on board or you’re not. When Valentine and Hunt meet face-to-face, after a particularly gruesome battle inside an evangelical church, the masks are dropped and both characters are revealed for the hero and villain they truly are. The dialogue exchange comes from two characters who have already expressed a love for 80s era Bond films but ends with “This ain’t that kind of film.”
And that exchange sums up the entire movie. Director Matthew Vaughn (who co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman) is making his own version of an ultra-violent (these two also gave us the comic inspired Kick-Ass) Bond flick, complete with sexual innuendo (as well as straight up sex), a “Q” figure known as, you guessed it, Merlin (Mark Strong, inexplicably doing a Scottish accent, and a global plot to rival anything S.P.E.C.T.R.E. could do. To top it all off, Valentine’s “OddJob” henchman is Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a double leg amputee, running around on razor sharp prosthetics (with which she can literally slice a man in half).
The action and violence are hysterically over the top and constantly performed with a wink, nod and tongue firmly in cheek. When we get a fireworks display of exploding heads (set to the same kind of music a fireworks display should be set to) there can be no doubt about the mindset of the filmmakers. The problem is he nails the genre so well, viewers may not realize he’s actually skewering it instead of accepting it.
Firth’s turn as an action hero is well played and Egerton will certainly have a future in the genre if he wants one. The surprise cameo of Mark Hamill as a mathematician is a delight while Michael Caine, who is obviously cashing a paycheck as Arthur, leader of the group, is still Michael Caine so it’s okay.
The final thing I want to mention, though, is a bit spoilery, and it involves the outcome of the plot (Not the controversial anal sex scene, which is perfect). No, the plot itself involves the idea we need to cull humanity in order to save ourselves from ourselves. Naturally Valentine has appointed himself arbiter of choice in this matter. One can assume, like in any science fiction drama where we need to save the best and brightest, that’s exactly what’s happening here. He’s saving the brains, the politicians, the financiers, etc. The people left behind are the dregs of humanity, the average folk, the phone sanitizers of Douglas Adams’ worlds. However, when the Kingsman organization foils the nefarious plot, they do so by killing all of the people who would have been saved (with the exception of those who refused to go along, like the Swedish princess – see above controversy). This means that in the new world created, there are no leaders, no scientists, no thinkers… what would this actually do to the world left behind?
Honestly, I’m kinda hoping for a sequel so I can find out.