Spy-Thriller ‘Kingsman’ Is Bloody, Campy Fun
Director Matthew Vaughn brings back tailored suits, ridiculous gadgets and cartoon villains
Galahad—the suave, well-dressed super spy played by Colin Firth—sits at a luxurious dining room table. He expected a party, one he’d use as cover to infiltrate a villain’s secret lair. But the bad guy decided on a private dinner.
Valentine is the villain, played with lisping glee by Samuel L. Jackson. The two stare at each other across the table. They know they’re mutual enemies, but neither are quite ready to admit it.
“Do you like spy movies?” Valentine asks.
“Nowadays, they’re all a bit serious,” Galahad says. He goes on to eulogize campy spy films from decades ago.
Valentine’s deadly assistant serves dinner on a beautiful silver tray. The music swells as if something awful will happen. She pulls up the lid of the tray to reveal … an array of McDonalds burgers and fries.
Galahad has the Big Mac. Valentine eats two double cheeseburgers. They discuss wine pairings with fast food, old spy films and talk around Valentine’s deadly doomsday plans.
This is Kingsman: The Secret Service, a new spy movie from writer Mark Millar and director Matthew Vaughn. It’s fun, dumb, hyper-violent and incredibly weird. It’s also the best spy film I’ve seen in a long time.
Minor spoilers follow.
The plot centers around Galahad. He’s a member of a secret order of British lords who pooled their money after World War I to start a spy agency—the Kingsman—which is independent of any government.
After the death of a colleague, Galahad and his fellow agents set out to find a replacement. Galahad picks Eggsy, the working-class son of another dead colleague. Eggsy is rude, crude and lowborn, but he’s loyal and—according to Galahad—has a lot of potential.
This choice upsets Galahad’s fellow Kingsman agents, who’ve all picked upper-class kids from nice families who attended either Oxford or Cambridge. Eggsy never went to college. He’s from the streets, hangs out in pubs and steals cars.
About half the film follows Eggsy’s training and competing with the snobs. Only one of the group will ascend, put on a fancy suit and live a life of international intrigue.
While Eggsy is training, Galahad pursues the villainous Valentine.
He’s a great movie bad guy—a Silicon Valley douchebag with too much money, time and clout. He wears hipster clothes, complete with a popped collar, sideways cap, ohm necklace and Google Glass.
Valentine is a new-money, tech billionaire philanthropist who wants to save the planet. The problem is, he’s run the numbers and there’s too many people. To him, humanity is a virus and there’s only one cure—mass extinction.
Valentine is so much fun because he plays on the audience’s fear of people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
The media often compares Musk to Tony Stark, but the billionaire genius who brought us PayPal, luxury electric cars and dreams of space flight could be building a doomsday weapon and it wouldn’t shock me. They’re our inspiration for the new silver-screen mad scientists.
Kingsman taps into something interesting. There’s a lot of class commentary running below the surface of the film. Eggsy is low class, Galahad and the Kingsman are high class, and Valentine represents that new Internet-borne technocrat disrupting old systems.
Valentine wants the benefits of power and money without any of its pretensions. That’s why he drinks red wine with his McDonalds served on a silver platter.
But class commentary and ridiculous plot aside, Kingsman is a fun movie.
The idea came about when writer Millar and director Vaughn got drunk together and began wondering why all the recent spy films were so dark and serious. Bond was aping Bourne and stealing plots from Nolan’s Batman films.
Kingsman is a rejection of that serious, dark and gritty stuff. It’s about gadgets and gore and good times. It’s more Moonraker than Skyfall.
This is a comic book movie, and a good one. Vaughn shoots amazing action scenes. He’s able to capture the kinetic, frenzied world of comic book violence on the screen in a way I’ve never seen before.
The camera zooms in tight, but remains steady as it whips back and forth to watch fists crunch into faces. Gone is the close-up, “shaky-cam” violence of recent Bourne, Batman and Bond films.
Kingsman is also violent. Brains explode, limbs break and good guys impale people on spears. Which adds to the camp and fun. I felt like I was watching an R-rated Marvel movie—and that’s a good thing.
Firth and Jackson are the stand-out performances. Jackson’s Valentine is ridiculous yet somehow believable, while Firth’s Galahad makes the polite British gentleman into an action star.
If someone had told me that one of the best action sequences in recent memory would star Colin Firth, I wouldn’t have believed them. I’ll never look at churches or hear Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird quite the same way again.
So much of recent pop culture has been edgy and dark that it’s nice to see movies like Kingsman or last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy remind audiences why we got to the movies in the first place—to have fun.