Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is a puppy dog of a movie. It is so doe-eyed and eager to please that it’s nearly impossible to fault, but that same self-aware eagerness is one of its biggest flaws. This 2015 film is based on the comic book The Secret Service by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar and features a screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman. It’s spirited stuff, through and through.
The goal with Kingsman: The Secret Service is to present a “fun” spy movie. That’s an admirable goal for those who believe the genre has worn down into gravity since the days of Roger Moore, but it also suggests that Vaughn and Co. play the part of protestation with a little too much oomph. This results in a “look what we’re doing” spirit that doesn’t always live up to its lofty intentions.
The flick opens as Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a spy with the code name of Galahad, pledges his life to the memory of a fellow agent. Years later, Internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) begins to kidnap various heads of state and VIPs. He then announces the giveaway of free Internet and cell phone service through his SIM cards.
Hart and his organization of spies, known as Kingsman, begin to track Valentine. Their numbers are dwindling, however, which creates the need for recruitment. Through a series of events, Hart finds the son of the aforementioned deceased agent and taps him for service. The son is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a London punk-ass who keeps getting into trouble.
Kingsman: The Secret Service pushes through the usual paces of modern superhero and/or spy movies. The recruitment sequences follow the establishment of the overarching plot and take up the lion’s share of the film, with Eggsy competing with the likes of Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and Charlie (Edward Holcroft) for a spot in the organization.
The training stuff plays a lot like any kind of assembly plot, with various tests weeding out those who can’t be a part of the group and the plucky hero proving his mettle right up until the bitter end. There is tomfoolery and whatnot, but it’s rather well-trod ground all the same. Luckily, Egerton makes for a likable protagonist and it’s fun watching him go up against society types.
And without question, the name of the game here is fun. Vaughn keeps things wet and wild, using his energetic filmmaking style to flip the action sequences around. Things play out like a mix between Kick-Ass and his virtuoso flashback style in X-Men: First Class, with the likes of Firth and Michael Caine more than happy to provide a little gentlemanly padding.
As for the plot, it’s zany and odd. Jackson’s lisping villain is trying to halt climate change, playing to the winking mentality of overpopulation as the jumping point for his vile plan. He is tired of government inaction and realizes that nobody will do anything about climate change because they don’t take it seriously. So, in his way, he plans to make people take it seriously. What a monster.
There are many perplexing elements to unpack, like the film’s foolish view of social class or the notion that global warming is so far gone that inaction is the only answer for sensible, good people. The villain believes humanity is a virus and that the planet is ridding itself of a flu, which dovetails into a difficult scene inside a church where Firth’s character dispatches mountains of brainless conservatives.
This is all done with tremendous cheek and it’s apparent that Vaughn is screwing with his audience, but one’s mileage will certainly vary. Heads exploding to the “1812 Overture” may be hilarious fun for a time, but there’s also something raucously obvious about it. Ditto for the other musical montages, like how the church scene is played out to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.”
So yes, heads do roll and detonate and people are massacred in a church. But Vaughn is so eager to play this out with an ogling sense of fun and spunk that it’s hard not to get swept up in the action. Perhaps that’s the ultimate lure or price of Kingsman: The Secret Service. It kills, no matter what anyone thinks.