"Manners... Maketh... Man."
Harry Hart/Galahad - Colin Firth
What on Earth has got into Mr. Darcy? When one thinks of debonair charm-maestro Colin Firth, the image conjured up is usually that of the aloof but dashing English gentlemen whose hackles would only be raised by a poor performance at Lords (the Home of Cricket) or by a glass of single malt being rudely poured over ice. And when one thinks of him in a scrap, one tends to recall the clumsy posh-boy fracas with Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones' Diary. After seeing Kingsman however, it would make the most evangelical Christian think twice about accosting him in a public place. Director Mathew Vaughn as re-teamed with Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar and old screenwriting partner Jane Goldman for another slice of manic mayhem. This time they have stirred in a few of those classic spy-movie tropes to create a frequently entertaining action comedy that tips its hat to 007 and his kind in its sophisticated styling, while at the same time injecting an overdose of ADD-fueled energy and verve of the modern action movie.
When one of their agents is killed on a mission to rescue a kidnapped professor, elite British secret agency the Kingsmen task each of their members to elect a new recruit. For seasoned spy Harry Hart (Firth), this presents an opportunity to right a wrong from his past. His choice - Eggsy (Taron Egerton), an intelligent but aimless youth whose father saved Harry's life many years ago. As Eggsy and his fellow recruits are put through their paces, Harry and the Kingsmen look into the dealings of internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and uncover a sinister plot that could destroy the world as we know it... Even from the plot description, you can tell there is no room for street-level "realism" borne out of the, er, Bourne franchise. Here we have high-living, gadget-laden excess paraded like James Bond's effete cousin. The Kingsman front is a Savile Row tailors with sharp suits, bowlers and brollies owing a nice tip of the hat to John Steed from The Avengers (that's the cult British 60s TV show, not the Marvel Super-team for my US friends). Vaughan and Goldman lace the upper-class trapping with some simplistic detail to keep suspension of disbelief at bay as much as possible (hello, bullet proof bespoke tailoring!), but this is clearly a film based more on style than substance - and for the large part, it succeeds. Cast-wise, the film boasts 2 particularly strong leads. Firth needs little introduction in the gentlemen stakes, but it is in the action sequences that he unexpectedly shines. Demonstrating a natural flair for the eclectic Victorian martial art of Bartitsu (favored by Sherlock Holmes among others), audiences will whoop and holler as Our Man Firth flings beer-breath hoodie thugs and prejudiced bible bashers left, right and centre in all manners of hard-hitting fisticuffs. Newcomer Egerton is also a real find, bringing both a youthful verve and natural swagger as the streetwise Eggsy - we should expect a lot more from this talented young actor.
Given such a potent team-up such as this - the upper-class gentleman spy and the young working-class wastrel - it is such a shame that the film works hard to keep these to apart for most of the proceedings. There is a nice degree of screen chemistry between Firth and Egerton, but the moment they start building up a bit of screen time, Harry is off investigating a lead whilst Eggsy is back in super-spy training with Mark Strong's Q-like Merlin. This is underlined even further with the rather sketchy characterizations of practically everyone else in the movie. Fellow newcomer Sophie Cookson barely registers as Eggsy's trainee associate Roxy, while Strong and Michael Caine can only get so much mileage out of the few scenes they feature in. But perhaps the biggest letdown is with the villains. Jackson's lisping cellphone mogul with a crippling fear of violence feels like an afterthought during one of the final script revisions. The fact that his "blade-runner" henchwoman Gazelle, played by dancer Sofia Boutella, feels more rounded (or should that be pointed?) is a crime in itself. But with a big megalomaniacal plot that is ripped right from the annals of Ian Fleming, one can't help feeling a little disappointed when said megalomaniacs are less defined than even the lowliest enforcer from the 007 canon. Vaughn is also guilty of allowing the physicality of his comic-book camera whizzes to jar alongside the sophisticated mise-en-scene of the more "gentlemanly" scenes. The slo-mo acrobatics of Egerton and Boutella at the end could have been torn from the pages of the graphic novel, but the films loses a little momentum and excitement because of them. Oh, and an anal sex gag at the end of the film will leave a nasty taste in the mouth (ahem!) for some viewers. But if the film's ingredients do not always add up to a gloriously cohesive whole, there is still briefcase-loads more style, wit and verve than you will find in most Hollywood capers these days. And that is something we Brits can be very proud of.
Like mixing the finer qualities of a Vesper Martini with the irreverent fun of a Jaegerbomb, Kingsman: The Secret Service wears its spy film influences on its impeccably tailored sleeve whilst simultaneously reveling in blood-spurting ultra-violence. Colin Firth and Taron Egerton prove a formidable double-act (when they are allowed to be) and Mathew Vaughn adds another high-velocity action caper to his back-catalogue. With a little more characterization and a little less Ritalin next time, a potentially phenomenal new spy series could be in the offering here.