As much as the world loved Daniel Craig’s grounded take on 007 James Bond, me personally, I missed the over-the-top, surreal world of global espionage and intrigue of the original Bond movies. Matthew Vaughn’s 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was just the comeback I needed/wanted.
Based on Mark Millar’s comic, The Kingsman is a secret service that exists to keep the world’s political tensions in balance. They act without authority because if it were left to politicians, the world would have crumbled centuries ago (we could debate this insane/benevolent idea for another time). Unfortunately, the Kingsman lost one of their own at the hands of the evil Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson)—a sorta villainous Steve Jobs archetype, and his deadly razor footed companion, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).
In immediate need of a replacement, Kingsman leader Arthur (Michael Caine) tells the remaining “knights,” including Harry Hart (Colin Firth), to nominate potential replacements. Hart nominates the streetwise, in trouble with the law, son of a former knight, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). Along with fellow nominees, including Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and Charlie (Edward Holcroft), the crew is put through a life and death audition for the position. No fun and games here.
There’s a lot familiar and fresh when it comes to Kingsman: The Secret Service. As an avid comic book reader in my youth, it hits many of my secret superhero checkboxes. Eggsy is that normal everyday kid (with a particular set of skills) who fights his way out of a bad home situation to ultimately become a kick-a*s adult. The tests Eggsy and his fellow recruits are put through require brute strength and clear intellectual thinking. But, of course, his ultimate undoing is his heart.
“Hart nominates the streetwise, in trouble with the law, son of a former knight, Eggsy…”
Since this is a spy film, there are plenty of out-of-this-world gadgets. Valentine is a supervillain with his share of quirks and weaknesses, and his plan is technically not evil in its foundation but genocidal in execution. Today, there are plenty of self-aware nods to Bond and the other spy franchises in cinema.
What’s fresh is the comic book approach to action and violence. The hand-to-hand fighting is not new, but it is memorable and choreographed beautifully. But Kingsman: The Secret Service deserves its hard R, which most spy films of the past refused to do. The fight scene in a church between Harry and a congregation of racist fundamentalists is brutal, bloody, and beautiful. There’s also an “explosive” ending that would put a Disneyland fireworks show to shame (see Kingsman just for the violence).
As violent as it is, Kingsman stays away from being gory. In the beginning, we witness the split-second dissection of a Kingsman, who is cut in half vertically. Then, like many of the dismemberments in the film, the body splits apart with no blood spill. Gore without blood, that’s what I’m saying.
Foiling Valentine is done through a typical series of coincidences and gadgets probably hung on Batman’s utility belt for far too long. It’s all plain comic-book fun, and ultimately this is why Kingsman: The Secret Service succeeds as a film and warrants a sequel and even a prequel…if that’s even possible (Yes, I know…). If there is a sequel, let’s hope Vaughn and company don’t screw it up (he says with ominous foreboding). I liked Kingsman: The Secret Service because the film refuses to take itself too seriously. There’s cool worldbuilding, and I want to see more of it. Lastly, the action and violence are next level, and this type of gore will never be seen in our modern MCU or DCEU blockbusters.