I didn’t grow up in the 60’s or 70’s, but I still grew up loving and acting out James Bond movies. My dad was and is a huge fan of the old Sean Connery and Roger Moore Bond movies. We would sit down and watch them back-to-back when TBS used to run their old “007/13/15 Days of 007” marathons. From the campy gadgets, to even campier villains, awesome cars, crazy stunts, and debonaire charm of 007, there was so much to like, love, and, at times, laugh at (come on, some of those gadgets were pretty ridiculous).
Kingsman: The Secret Service brings back many of the elements of the old Bond movies that we all loved so much. It takes place, naturally, in England in present day and focuses on the secret spy organization, The Kingsman. Not tied down to any bureaucracy or government, they work to combat crime all over the globe by uncovering terrorist and criminal plots. When a Kingsman agent, codenamed Lancelot, is killed trying to rescue a kidnapped global climate change professor, Dr. Arnold, (cameo by Mark Hamill), a new Lancelot must be found to fill the roundtable of agents. Arthur (Michael Caine), the leader of the Kingsman, tasks each surviving agent to recruit a young candidate to go through training as the potential replacement. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), codenamed Galahad, finds an unlikely recruit in the son of the previous Lancelot, who’s death seventeen years ago had come under his command. Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who Harry recruits, grew up without his father and has become a street-wise young thug in trouble with the law and at odds with his mom’s boyfriend. He is sent to a secret training location with 10 other candidates while Galahad, Arthur, Merlin (Mark Strong) deal with the growing threat of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a billionaire tech guru who had kidnapped Dr. Arnold and has devious plans with his tech and Dr. Arnold’s research. When things go from bad to worse in the attempt to foil Valentine’s plan, Eggsy is thrust into a leading role to take what he has learned from Galahad and his training to stop Valentine, his deadly sidekick Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).
While the cinematography and direction of Matthew Vaughan are extremely similar to the last movie he directed, X-Men: First Class, he takes his well-paced action and clever dialogue to shape a different kind of spy movie. The movie was adapted from a 2012 comic book and Vaughan’s style and craft like it did in First Class, fits the comic book to movie adaptation like a glove. It’s crazy, intense action with a surprising amount of gore mixed with camp, alacrity, and self-deprecating humor. It is not an homage to the Bond movies, it is more of a modern day reverent pastiche to those movies and other spy franchises; like gadget references to Get Smart and classic Bond villain Rosa Klebb, among others.
The best parts of the movie and the most obvious tips to those old Bond movies are the Bond-esque Galahad and villain pairing. Firth is charming, suave, and gentlemanly in all the ways Roger Moore or Sean Connery would have been, minus the romantic interest (there seems to be little to no time for that in this movie save a bizarre ending). He’s sophisticated, debonaire, handsome, and downright deadly when he kicks some serious butt. Firth’s performance is a little more over-the-top than his part in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but he certainly brings credibility and class to a role that could have been a lot goofier.
His antagonist and sinister baddie is the self-christened “old fashioned megalomaniac” Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and his paraplegic sidekick Gazelle, whose legs are replaced with bladed prosthetics. This malevolent duo channels the classic villainous pairings of old spy movies and is almost a direct lift of Stromberg and Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me. In fact, even Valentine’s plot (I won’t spoil it) is similar to the dubious, self-righteous plot of Stromberg. It’s a bunch of really cool hat tips with their own silly and somewhat plausible twists that make the movie a little predictable but loads of fun. Kingsman looks and feels like a response to the “Dark Knight-ing” of the Bond franchise.
The response and return to old form are both what helps and hurts the movie. You do not get a gray area hero but cut and dry good guys and bad guys. There is not the deeper character development of a great movie like Skyfall, but you get a hero you can root for to beat up the bad guys and win the day. If the movie had a more self-serious tone, it probably wouldn’t work. However, the movie consistently pokes fun at itself, even in it’s grimmer and warmer moments that threaten to give it pathos and heart. It’s comic book origins are its driving force and why it is striking a chord with audiences. It’s fun and exciting and it’s justice is best served with a copious amount of bullets, crazy gadgets, and exploding heads.