Kingsman: The Secret Service

“Manners Maketh Man” – Harry Hart

Two things I’ve been accused of in the past are not revealing in a review whether or not I like the film, and having a bias against action films.  I will hereby correct both misapprehensions, in this case about spy movies.

Some would say you can’t subvert the Jimmy Bond-style spy movie because it is already a spoof – or it was when Roger Moore was at the height of his campness. Any attempt so to do will result in an unfunny mess, and boy, many have proved that point over the years.

Perhaps it’s obvious that it would take a comic strip novel to create a delicious spoof that hits the high spots and beats Bond for thrills and gadgets, or maybe the point is that Bond has reinvented so often he’s more like Doctor Who than a super spy with amazing villains.

The reason for that is that making a film is like making a film, but comic strips have not lost their sense of swagger or derring-do; that is, they can swashbuckle like Errol Flynn at his peak. They go places where other stories don’t, visually and narratively. V for Vendetta proved that principle, and there have been any number of Superheroes using CGI to win hearts while lacking soul.

Matthew Vaughn‘s Kingsman does for spy films what V did for anarchy and, according to the quote on the poster, “more badass than Bond.”  You know you’re in for something a bit different when the first, and unquestionably thrilling and beautifully choreographed fight scene after the prologue reveals the delightfully tweed-suited Jack Davenport (he of Coupling fame) being sliced in two, vertically, by Sofia Boutella‘s razor sharp prosthetic legs.  That never happened in a Bond film.

In fact, based on recent showings it is better than Bond in pretty much every aspect: the fights are crisper, the humour is funnier, the gadgets are hotter, the weapons more spectacular, the plot more coherent (just about), the script sharper, the locations lusher, the stunts more outrageous, the shocks more shocking.  Oh, and the villain probably hams it up more spectacularly than even Javier Bardem did in Skyfall!

In fact, I’m struggling to think of any way in which the tired old Bond films are better viewing, which is quite an astonishing statement when you come to think about it.  Admittedly, being the first in the series does help, but the essential concept works brilliantly and word on the ground is that the sequel will be even zingier.

But back to the original.  It is greatly helped by the casting of Colin Firth as the perfectly besuited quintessentially English tailor and secret spy Harry Hart (aka Galahad), more David Niven than the slightly neanderthal style of Daniel Craig.

Hart’s method of combat, be it beating up a pack of London thugs in an East End pub or massacring a church full of worshippers thanks to having his brain scrambled by Samuel L Jackson‘s evil Richmond Valentine, is more impressive than a clutch of Bonds.  He seems especially adept at using one corpse as a shield while killing more antagonists over his shoulder, while never for one second losing his cool.

Make no mistake though, the massacre is truly shocking – can you ever see Bond being made to do that, other than through an evil doppelgänger?  And talking of choreography, this is rapid-fire murder involving dozens of deliberately maddened participants – it looks like mass murder on ice, so slick is the movement, certainly on a par with your favourite martial arts films; Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee would approve.

Galahad’s equivalent of M is Chester King aka Arthur, played in a role he must have killed for by our current favourite elder statesman Michael Caine.  Suitably gruff, Caine’s Arthur also turns out to be more than meets the eye, and I’m quite sure his agent insisted on nothing less.  There is even a Q in the shape of Mark Strong‘s Merlin, a meatier character than the trifling role given recently to Ben Wishaw.  More than a few nods to Bond there, so no question about who Vaughn is taking on.

But if you thought you were getting just a standard spy story, think again.  You also get a contest for the induction into the Kingsman service the next generation of potential spies, particularly our hero Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), whose father saved the life of Galahad in a combat mission and to whom Hart therefore owes a favour.  Eggsy runs neck and neck in the contest with Sophie Cookson‘s Roxy Morton, up to the point where Eggsy can’t bring himself to shoot his dog.

Even this failure does not see the end of him.  Cometh the hour and all that, Eggsy is on hand to foil the dastardly Valentine with help from Merlin, Roxy and a stack of fascinating gadgets, including, of course, the essential mark of an English gentleman, the rolled umbrella.

A spiky script is essential to success in this kind of lark, and Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman (aka Mrs Jonathan Ross) deliver deliciously saucy lines without a hint of equivocation, let alone English reserve.  A favourite is spoken by Hart in the massacre scene:

“I’m a Catholic whore, currently enjoying congress out of wedlock with my black Jewish boyfriend who works at a military abortion clinic. So, hail Satan, and have a lovely afternoon, madam.”

Not just the words of course, the delivery is achieved with the sort of panache you could only hope for when actors are having an absolute ball.

Much as I love Jackson, he is way OTT here and should have underplayed for greater impact, but that is a minor blip.

So to anyone who doubts me, my view is that Kingsman is brimming with pzazz, its tongue firmly in its cheek but its action hotter than all but the hottest.  It delivers at all levels, but if it is sensible it will stick at two movies and allow us to enjoy Kingsman while it was buzzing.

“Leave ’em wanting more”, as the old showbiz saying goes. 25 for Jimmy B is way, way over the top.  Craig’s heart isn’t in it so a sensible production company would have stopped there and milked the existing franchise.

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