Matthew Vaughn continues his fine directorial form with the euphorically divisive Kingsman: The Secret Service. The film stars Taron Edgerton as youth-off-the-rails Eggsy, and Colin Firth as man-in-a-suit Harry Hart. The film begins with a flashback to the loss of a Hart’s fellow spy and friend, the father of Eggsy. Hart vows to help the family of his fallen friend, and leaves them a mysterious medal with a contact number should Eggsy or his mother ever need help.
Cut to the present and when teenage Eggsy has a run in with the law, he tries the number on the medal. When he is released Hart is waiting outside and pitches his secret spy organisation, The Kingsman, to Eggsy. Hart is attempting to fill the place made vacant by another deceased colleague who was killed by an evil corporation, helmed by a lisping and haemophobic Samuel Jackson as billionaire villain Richmond Valentine. In true retro-spy-film style Valentine aims to rule the world by duping the unwitting public in a devious scheme.
As with any good genre spoof, Kingsman is directed with love and parody in equal measures. Vaughn does what his own Kickass did for comic book films, and what The Cabin in The Woods did for horror, playfully deconstructing the spy genre with a healthy dose of nostalgia. This is Vaughn’s second film of a Mark Millar comic book, Kickass being the first, and it continues in the same vain. There’s gruesome and inventive violence, exhilarating action and a number of enjoyable characters. Michael Caine and a Scottish Mark Strong round out the cast beautifully as Hart’s compatriot Kingsmen.
All the main characters deliver something unexpected and subversive, whether it’s Colin Firth as a natural born killer, or Samuel L as a villain who sounds more like Sylvester the cat than Dr No. Yet none of the characters seem cartoonish or one dimensional, allowing the movie’s heart to come through in the right moments. That is in between the training montages, explosions and massacres that pepper the movie wonderfully.
There are bits of Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class in Eggsy’s training to become a Kingsman, bits of Gareth Evans’s The Raid films in the action scenes (watch out for the bit in the church) and a parachute sequence that could give Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla a run for it’s money. (Well done Gareths). Add onto that a soundtrack comparable to the glorious Guardians of the Galaxy and you’ve got 129 minutes of edgy, cheeky and violent fun.
So why has the film divided critics? Sadly it’s the treatment of women, which has started to make film critics sound like broken records, but is an issue that needs to be addressed. The female characters in the film are given few lines, little depth and are generally sidelined. Sofia Boutella’s character Gazelle is certainly abadass and has plenty of screen time, but she barely says a word and spends the whole time killing with her sword/feet things. Her acrobatics in the fight scenes are impressive but her character is written flatter than week old prosecco. Then there’s Roxy, played by Sophie Cookson. As Eggsy’s love interest, Cookson plays the character with impressive gravitas and feeling in a way that makes us want to see more of her. But we don’t, and instead she is brushed aside in the end for the purpose of the final and most controversial joke of the film.
The other side of the argument is that this is all in keeping with the parody of old school spy films, which contain their fair share of sexism, and there is certainly a way of reading some of this as irony and referential parody. Vaughn delivers a cinema experience worth paying for, and if you can give him the benefit of the doubt, gasps and laughs a plenty.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is in UK cinemas now