I saw Kingsmen: The Secret Service at a preview screening a month ago. There is a pattern to preview screenings, the further in advance they are the more the studio believes in the movie. Kingsmen’s preview was nearly a month before the movie’s release. Anything beyond two weeks is usually a good sign. For comparison, the night I saw Kingsmen the same theater was having a preview of Mortdeci, a film that opened the very next night and promptly bombed. Clearly, 20th Century Fox believed in the film, but was Kingsmen: The Secret Service any good?
Kingsmen: The Secret Service is a loose adaptation of a little known comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It seems, these days, that Millar mostly makes comic books in order to have them adapted into movies. Fortunately this was one of Millar’s less troubling books.
The plot is a familiar one. Our main character is Eggsy (Taron Egerton) a lower class thug who had shown early promise but threw it away to take care of his mother. However, it turns out that Eggsy’s dad was a member of the Kingsmen, a secret organization tasked with keeping the world safe in total secrecy. Eggsy’s dad died saving the lives of several teammates, including Harry Hart (Colin Firth) aka Galahad who takes it upon himself to see that Eggsy becomes a Kingsman and lives up to his potential.
While Eggsy is training to be a Kingsman with several other potentials under Merlin (Mark Strong), Harry is investigating tech Billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) who seems to be involved in a plot that involves kidnapping, subverting leaders of most nations, and an extreme plan to deal with global warming.
Most of the plot points in Kingsmen are predicable, as it follows a very standard hero’s journey plotline. What makes it work is how the characters are presented and the humor involved. At its heart, Kingsmen is a love letter to the Roger Moore era bond films and the old British TV series The Avengers.
As the main character, Taron Egerton does a fine job making Eggsy work, as both the rough and tumble lad and his evolution into the Gentleman spy.
Colin Firth holds the film together as Harry Hart. He plays the part as more John Steed than James Bond.
Samuel L Jackson is the odd one here. His portrayal of Valentine requires him to forgo his usual bad ass attitude in favor of a man who abhors violence, but is ruthless none the less. He does so, in part, by giving Valentine a severe lisp (which is apparently an exaggeration of one Jackson use to have).
Director Matthew Vaughn does a great job with how the fight scenes are staged and filmed. The overall look of the film is reminiscent of the Spy Kids films but with the violence of a Quentin Tarantino film (minus the blood).
An interesting point in the movie is the use of fashion. The cover of most of the Kingsmen is that they are gentlemen’s tailors. The suits and accessories are part of their spy gear, and code phrases involve fashion. Luxury retailer Mr. Porter has made a line of clothes for the movie and has them for sale.
There is also an in joke for the fans of the comic. The comic opens with an attempted rescue of Mark Hamill who is being kidnapped by the bad guys; in the movie, they have an attempted rescue of a scientist, played by Mark Hamill.
There is one issue that takes away from the film, and it is the question of diversity. On one hand the Kingsmen show that they are just as willing to have women in the organization, and the main female character Roxy (Sophie Cookson) never becomes a love interest, and her arc is not dependent on Eggsy, which is good. The problem is that the good guys in the film are all very white. Any character of any other ethnicity is part of Valentine’s team.
In the end I give Kingsmen: The Secret Service a grade of B-. Fans will love the homage to an earlier generation of spy films and non-fans will still have plenty to keep their attention.