The last time Colin Firth was involved in a fight on-screen, it ended up with him and Hugh Grant floundering around in a fountain like a pair of near-sighted, mildly drunk toddlers while Renee Zellweger’s Bridget Jones looked on with equal amounts enjoyment and pity. While there are bucket loads of enjoyment to be found in Kingsman: The Secret Service, the only pity you will have is for Firth’s co-combatants as this cool as an English cucumber, bad ass killing machine dispatches them in some of the most jaw-dropping displays of cinematic action I have ever witnessed in a movie. Yes, I just referred to Colin Firth as a “bad ass killing machine”, and that’s not even the most shockingly impressive thing about this movie.
With the recent Bourne-ification of James Bond, the gentleman spy genre has lost lots of its silly fun appeal. And here to rectify that with the subtlety of an axe in the face (yes, that’s in here) is filmmaker Matthew Vaughn and his frequent writer-partner Jane Goldman, the duo that turned Mark Millar’s gleeful send up of comic book hero worship, Kick-Ass, into a global smash hit. Here they’re tackling another of Millar’s comics, “The Secret Service”, but free from the cushy constraints of big Hollywood studio filmmaking, they put their own off-the-wall spin on proceedings as they take the well-worn genre tropes and turn them up a notch. Then several further notches. Then again, as they turn up notches that you would never thought anybody would even acknowledge existed. And the result is a movie that feels like the gadget-laden debonair adventures of James Bond in his suave sixties heyday by way of Edgar Wright’s effortless coolness and Gareth Evans’ cinematographic mastery of violence. And it is incredible!
Firth stars as Harry Hart (codename: Galahad), a veteran member of the Kingsman, a top-secret non-governmental spy agency whose roots and demeanour may be found in old English aristocracy, but who are a small group of very capable, very ruthless individuals who have been secretly saving the world to zero fanfare since World War I. Enter newcomer Taron Egerton’s Gary “Eggsy” Urwin, a low-class troublemaker chav with far more potential than he has future. When a Kingsman agent is killed, Harry taps Eggsy as his personal pick to enter the deadly “interview” process to find a replacement Kingsman. But while street smart Eggsy is busy sparring with the other snooty agent hopefuls and trying to survive the ever-crazier exams administered by Mark Strong’s unforgiving quartermaster Merlin, Hart and his stuck-in-his-old-ways boss, Arthur (Michael Caine), are trying to figure out just what exactly billionaire tech mogul Richmond Valentine (a hilariously lisping Samuel L. Jackson) is plotting that has already resulted in the death of their comrade.
Said plot may come across as awfully cartoonish, and besides for a few quick sidebars on class-ism and self-worth, Kingsman may not be the type of story that requires any brainy engagement, but the movie’s script is refreshingly self-aware, regularly poking fun at the very genre that its resurrecting.
Firth is perfectly cast as Hart, switching back and forth between his action man and man of class personas with ease, while Jackson is a complete hoot as the eccentric baseball cap wearing supervillain. But it’s Egerton who’s the real revelation here. Despite the fact that he had barely begun acting a year before he was cast by Vaughn, the handsome young actor is completely at ease with everything the movie throws at him. And it throws a lot. From enduring his own My Fair Lady-like transformation from hoodie wearing rabble-rouser to bespoke suited, smooth as Saville Row silk hero, to going toe to razor-sharp toe with henchwomen Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a very literal blade runner boasting some deadly prosthetic legs, Egerton handles it all impressively. He’s also responsible for several of the film’s gut-busting laugh out loud moments.
And trust me you will laugh, as the script boasts numerous completely unexpected snorters. You may just start questioning your conscience as some of the gags border on the amoral, but Vaughn, Goldman and the cast inject the film with so much infectious kinetic energy that you can’t help but get completely swept up in the truly manic proceedings. Never is this personified more than in a second-act climax that has rocketed its way up my list of Best Movie Fight Scenes Ever and which will leave you lollygagging with its breathless pacing and extreme fight choreography. And all of it captured through some of the best action cinematography I’ve ever seen.
I suspect Vaughn made use of the revolutionary remote-controlled camera rig that Keanu Reeves planned but ultimately failed to use in Man of Tai Chi, as normal cameras simply do not move this way unless black magic is involved. Smoothly and clearly tracking alongside every punch, every kick, every bloodcurdling eye gouge, the camera swings in and out, up and down, side to side with such animated intensity, that you’re stuck right in the midst of the bone-crunching, face-stabbing action but without ever losing the clarity of what is happening. The technical wizardry of What Vaughn has done is hard to translate into words, and just needs to be experienced for yourself to be believed. Much like the entire movie actually.
Kingsman may be a bit too extreme for some, but for me it is just sheer, maniacally gleeful escapism at its very best – about as pure a translation of the limitless exciting and fun comic book experience as we are ever likely to get on the big screen. The last time I thought of a movie in those terms was with The Avengers. With that movie’s sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron – hotly touted as the biggest comic book movie of 2015 – I don’t know what Marvel will be bringing to the table. Whatever it is though, it better be huge, as they will have a tough time beating out not only the best comic book movie I’ve seen in years, but right now, my favourite movie of the year!
Last Updated: February 12, 2015