Kingsman: The Secret Service is an amiable — and subversive — romp through spy genre tropes.
A New Bondage
Kingsman’s climactic action involves a symphony of exploding heads. It’s not done as a sequence of horrific blood and guts. The explosions yield a colorful canvas of mushroom clouds emanating from headless necks.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Kingsman agents, and it’s in perfect keeping with the creative forces behind the scenes. Collectively, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the creators of this crafty, violent and very funny world, also brought Kick-Ass, Wanted and Watchmen to the pages of graphic novels. Here, Millar once again teams with Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn, whose cinematic sensibilities are so well-suited for the material.
The Kingsman label is a front. To the general public, it’s a high-end shop for tailor-made suits. Behind those fitting rooms, though, is a private tube system that leads to a wholly different world of super-duper secret agents. For them, the early James Bond movies were the best. And they even give a gentle, covert nod to the wondrous gadgetry of Get Smart.
The Kingsman agents, though, are the “real” deal.
A New Knight
The stage is set in the Middle East, 1997. It’s a mission that goes on to haunt Harry Hart (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech). A fellow agent is killed during the mission and Harry takes it upon himself to ensure the agent’s wife and son and looked after.
But that mission itself is a hard one to complete. The son, Eggsy (relative newcomer and fresh face Taron Egerton) is a smart kid, but he’s surrounded by the wrong crowd in his harsh concrete London neighborhood. His is a world of pub brawls and car thefts until Harry frees him from jail and ushers Eggsy into the dynamic, colorful world of spy games.
Harry goes by another name within the inner circle of Kingman. He’s called Galahad. And the Arthur of this modern Knights of the Round Table is none other than Michael Caine (1969’s The Italian Job).
From there, Kingsman reveals itself as a witty, fun ride that slowly succumbs to the subversive – and that’s not such a bad thing, mind you.
A New Villain
It might sound odd, but aside from those exploding heads and a femme fatale who takes stiletto heels to a whole new level by way of her steel prosthetics, the movie actually has a pretty good heart. There’s a message slipped in there for Eggsy, one about nobility stemming from a person moving beyond their former self. Like Bond in Skyfall, Kingsman agents struggle with the need to keep up with the times. And their version of Google Glass is so much more aces.
Kingsman also gives Mark Hamill a chance to shine anew before Episode VII hits the screens. He’s mighty good as a British professor and expert in climate change. He becomes one of many A-listers held captive by a tech-savvy heavy named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction).
Valentine’s got a nefarious plot on his mind, one that he explains through his lisp. That alone is a funny little affectation, given it’s a nod to the long line of cinematic villains who carry some sort of ailment or impairment. For one, there was Le Chiffre in Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale. He had tears of blood. Anyway, that plot involves giving the entire population of planet Earth free SIM cards so they can have free Internet and free phone calls. Forever.
But of course, some things are too good to be true and those free SIM cards come at a price by way of mind control that is intended to, putting it politely, thin out the world’s population and help Mother Earth survive for a few more generations.
It’s a popular concept in pop culture, that notion of genocide in the name of the environment. Dan Brown explored similar territory in the Robert Langdon thriller Inferno.