Review: Kingsman – The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic shoots stylishly out of the gates, and it is guaranteed that minds will be blown.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Kingsman: The Secret Service poster


Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Runtime: 129 minutes

Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: US/UK

Rating:  ★★★★½ (9/10)

More info

The prospect of Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn re-teaming with creator Mark Millar was already a glee inducing prospect, as the combination had previously produced one of the most kinetic translations of a modern comic book in recent memory. Since then, Vaughn has solidified his reputation in the genre by directing X-Men: First Class, co-plotting its sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past and producing a sequel to Kick-Ass.  While KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE may be based on Millar’s 2012 comic series, it pleasingly returns to Vaughn’s roots by infusing it with elements of the distinctive British sensibilities and hyper-violent style that characterised his Guy Ritchie productions. The results are bloody brilliant.

Taking the loose structure of the comic, along with several key sequences and beats, Jane Goldman and Vaughn’s screenplay shifts the uncle/nephew dynamic to something closer to My Fair Lady, a reference that the film riffs on. Following the death of a top field agent at the clandestine Kingsman spy operation, a set of debonair British agents who use the titular high-end tailor as their front, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) sees potential in estate rat “Eggsy” (Taron Egerton), the son of a former colleague. Attempting to repay a debt to his deceased father, Harry vouches for the boy’s recruitment into the order – as long as he can pass a series of convoluted and deadly tests. Meanwhile technology billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) initiates a scheme that begins with free mobile access for the entire world.

Unlike The Secret Service comic, Vaughn mostly concentrates on the training and blossoming friendship of Eggsy and his fellow trainee Roxy (Sophie Cookson). While this might be falling back on the “origin story” tropes of all superhero films, it makes for a much more effective feature than a straight adaptation of the comic. There are minor tweaks, such as the gender-flipped “blade runner” Gazelle, a muscle-bound character that could have stepped out of Frank Miller’s Sin City in the comic. Here the character is played by Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella, a clever twist on the James Bond henchman formula. There’s plenty of in-jokes for the comic’s fans though: a recognisable Star Wars actor makes an appearance, albeit not quite as expected.

It’s undoubtedly the literally mind-blowing action sequences that take KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE to the next level. The tone is set early with the parkour and reverse-steering car chases we’ve come to expect from modern action, and an umbrella that would put James Bond’s Q Division to shame. Yet an extended sequence set inside a church, to a full song’s worth of music, is a piece of balletic bloodletting that is a masterclass in tightly controlled chaos. if you’ve seen Kick-Ass, then you’ll know that this isn’t even close to the explosive finale. To say more would be to spoil one of the most masterfully orchestrated pieces of comedic violence ever put on screen.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE transcends its comic book roots, and this is by no means diminishing the wonderful source material from Millar and the legendary Dave Gibbons (Watchmen). It’s just that in every way that counts, this adaptation succeeds in bringing the full cinema experience to audiences. Do not expect a family-friendly throwback to the days of the gentleman spy, or a quaint jaunt through Steed’s The Avengers. Instead, strap yourself in for just the right amounts of excessive violence, clever cultural nods, and some laugh-out-loud moments of hilarity.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is released in the UK on  29 January 2015, in Australia on 5 February 2015 and in the US on 13 February 2015 from 20th Century Fox.