Matthew Vaughn is no stranger to adaptations of comic book works, having been responsible for the film that sort-of rebooted the X-Men films, First Class. Neither is he a stranger to Mark Millar comics, and their more brutal manner of approaching an already familiar genre, as he directed Kick Ass, and acted as producer on the second film. With this new collaboration on a Millar title, Vaughn gets to explore Bond-styled themes as we discover the world of the secret agency known as Kingsman.
The comic on which the film is inspired was a typical Millar approach to a genre, breaking down the conventions and putting a new spin on old ides. Much as how Kick Ass lovingly made fun of the idea of costumed vigilantes, so too did Secret Service poke fun at the spy genre. In adopting the film version, this loving mockery is retained, but never seems to be mocking as such as it embraces the old styled aesthetics of a crazy megalomaniac versus a secret agent, mountain lairs and strange skilled henchmen intact.
Story wise, the film has a Men in Black approach, as we are brought into the secret world of the Arthurian named agents of Kingsmen via a new recruit who joins a group of others in an intense training program of which only one can succeed in the end. It is usual for the recruits to be of the upper class stock, but Harry Hart aka. Galahad (Colin Firth) believes that there is potential in a young lad from a poor estate, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton). Whilst Eggsy starts proving his worth via tests laid on by Merlin (Marc Strong), the underlying plot plays out elsewhere. Celebrities great minds, and diplomats have been vanishing, and a wealthy tech developer, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is set to release a new mobile technology to the world. However Valentine has a secret agenda, and only the Kingsmen can stop him.
The film is visually smart, and action is handled with skill and style that we have come to expect from Vaughn. From encounters with mobs in a local pub, to a frantic chase through an underground lair, Vaughn knows how to edit for pacing, but ensure that the action is seen (a pet hate of mine is the shaky camera and swift editing of many action films these days that don’t allow you to see the impact). There is generally a comical approach to the action, even in a high point of the film which sees a brutal massacre in the confines of a church. The balance of humour to brutality is well measured, much in the same way it played just right in Kick Ass. Other set pieces such as a group skydive exercise, or a flooded dorm room present more thrills and tension between the key moments, making this a well packed out action film.
Kingsman is a great, loving homage to the early days of spy films, whilst also setting up potential for a future franchise of well spoken, well educated, and most importantly well mannered spies for the new generation. A well rounded cast, including Michael Caine as Arthur, and Jack Davenport (who needs to be cast as Bond once Daniel Craig leaves the role) as Lancelot, all lend to the proceedings. It also has a great use of music tracks throughout, with standout moments using Freebird and Land of Hope And Glory to brilliant effect. Most importantly the film knows exactly what it wants to be, and doesn’t try to be a serious film. It is fun, frantic, and pure entertainment.