Fun, spectacular and rather rude, Kingsman - The Secret Service is a refreshing new spin on the spy movie.
|The Avengers was never like this... (Image: Moviestore.com)|
Still wrestling with the blues and unemployment, I threw caution to the wind on Monday and went to see a film. As a tonic for the blues, for me there are still few things better than going to the pictures and, as the last film I paid to see was Pride last summer, I thought it was way past time I did my small part to help out the British film industry again. Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed a good choice as I’d heard positive things about it and it was about spies, one of my favourite fascinations.
Stone being blasted out of a Middle Eastern fortress and forming the film’s credits hinted at something a bit out of the ordinary. I’d heard somewhere that the film was based on a comic but I’ve never seen or read it. As it unfolds, you’re intrigued by the revelation that the sophisticated Harry Hart (Colin Firth, having a ball) works for Kingsman, an ‘independent international intelligence agency’, whose operatives are all suited and booted in bespoke tailoring. When Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton, impressively confident), the son of one Harry’s agent’s killed in Iraq, asks for help with the police, Harry takes him under his wing and trains him up in the organisation’s secret arts.
The film is at once a fresh spin on a well worn genre and defiantly old fashioned. The contemporary social observation is new: Eggsy’s mum (a highly believable Samantha Womack) slides from being a grieving army widow in 1997 into being, in the present day, the punch-bag for a criminal step Dad in charge of a gang of low-life chavs. Eggsy himself has given up a promising career in the marines, settling for ‘drugs, petty crime, never [having] a job.’ You don’t normally see the British underclass in modern spy fiction and it’s done pretty authentically.
On the other hand, there’s always been the tradition of the working class outsider getting the better of a predominantly upper espionage class establishment in spy fiction, and it’s a punch-the-air moment for long-term spy fans to see Michael Caine – Harry Palmer, the working class hero himself – turn up as Kingsman’s chief. With Eggsy up against a batch of toff recruits, the film settles into an enjoyably predictable groove as he gets the better of them in ingenious ways thanks to his street smarts, most notably in a brilliant, heart-in-mouth aerial parachute drop. He also bonds with posh girl Roxy (the spirited Sophie Cookson), albeit with a lot more four letter words than Palmer or David Callan used.
There’s also self-aware fun to be had for spy-fi fans in spotting more references to other films, primarily with the pleasingly up-to-the-minute villain Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), an internet millionaire who knows he’s the evil mastermind in a spy film. Hart and Valentine even nostalgically discuss vintage spy movies, finding modern ones ‘a bit serious’ and reflecting that ‘the old Bond films were only as good as the villain.’ In a similar vein, Valentine’s master plan is gratifyingly insane – complete with a traditional countdown to Armageddon – but, elsewhere, Kingsman cleverly subverts old super spy film conventions, in a couple of scenes to particularly dramatic and shocking effect.
Every spy film baddy has to have a henchman or henchwoman, and Valentine has the sensual assassin Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), who uses Oscar Pistorious-style walking blades to kill (an upgrade of Rosa Klebb’s poison blade-concealing shoes in From Russia with Love). In light of what happened to the South African runner, I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable about this aspect of the film, not to mention thinking that it was in questionable taste, even as I was carried along by the action.
And, if you like action, Kingsman will have you open-mouthed at some sequences. As a fan of The Avengers, I got a blast from seeing immaculately suited secret agents getting the better of the opposition with umbrellas again in elaborately staged, Manga-style ballets of violence. Colin Firth must have revelled in the chance to be an action hero at last, particularly in the utterly insane, over the top, but brilliantly shot and choreographed sequence where he takes on the entire congregation of a church. I don’t know how they did it, but it’s hugely enjoyable. I can’t say much more about the action scenes without spoiling the fun, except that one near the end is breathtaking in its ultraviolence.
As is the tradition with spy films of a certain age, Kingsman ends on the risqué realisation of Eggsy’s belief that ‘posh birds love a bit of rough.’ Let’s just say it makes Roger Moore’s saucy ‘Keeping the British end up, sir,’ from the conclusion of The Spy Who Loved Me, look like something by Noel Coward.
Is Kingsman un-PC? I have to say so. Is it extremely violent? Guilty as charged. Is it a fun action film with some clever, intelligent and unexpected touches? Yes – and that’s why it’s worth a night out.