Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) (film review by Mark R. Leeper).

Matthew Vaughn directs, co-produces, and co-authors a script about a super-special branch of the British Secret Service. Sending up the James Bond films and nodding to films as diverse as ‘Invaders From Mars’ and ‘The Shining’, the film has a solid sense of fun. Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a super-spy who recruits the wayward son of the agent who saved his life. Hart trains the boy and then together they face off against a high-tech super-villain, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson affecting a childish lisp). The story makes little sense but moves fast enough that the viewer hardly notice. This film is astonishing and fun. What could have come off as a bunch of cheap shots poking fun just add to the class of the production.

Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

When the ‘James Bond’ films were getting popular they were satirised in the ‘Flint’ movies: ‘Our Man Flint’ (1966) and ‘In Like Flint’ (1967). That almost seems redundant since the Bond films satirised themselves. Unimaginatively, Flint was an agent who just was an expert on any subject he needed, far beyond the capabilities of mortals like you and me and the film industry, forty-nine years later, is still challenging Bond by creating super-agents. The latest and very likely the most creative is the preternaturally smooth Harry Hart (played by Colin Firth), agent of the British super-Secret Service. The film is the spectacularly exaggerated spy spoof ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’.

Michael Caine is the spy that came in from the cold to enjoy the cheeky warmth as head honcho in KINGMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
Michael Caine is the spy that came in from the cold to enjoy the cheeky warmth as head honcho in KINGMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE

The film opens with Harry Hart, superspy, slipping up and nearly getting killed, but for the help of another agent who saves Hart but gets killed in the process. Years later, the heroic agent’s son is going wrong in brushes with the law. At the same time, the Secret Service is looking for promising material to mould into new secret agents. Hart wants to kill two birds with one stone, bringing the troublesome boy into the organisation. Hence, this boy with the thick English accent gets his chance to prove himself and become a spy. Taron Egerton plays Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin, about to enter the bewildering world of the secret agents.

Doing a tongue-in-cheek satire is really a dangerous business. There are any number of satirical films, frequently filled with graduates of ‘Saturday Night Live’, that go on for long stretches without ever earning a chuckle. This film has genuine original material and situations some of which work. Toward the end there are some astonishing ideas. The approach is more comic book than James Bond, but it does not talk down to the viewer. This film not only has allusions to Bond films but, if you look and listen, you can find pieces of ‘Quatermass And The Pit’, ‘The Shining’, ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’, ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘24’, ‘Pretty Woman’ and others. The dapper British agent with impeccable suit, tie and brolly may have come from ‘The Avengers’ or as far back as Ralph Richardson as Major Hammond in ‘Q Planes’ (1939). There is also a clear visual reference to Oscar Pistorius.

Problems with script include too easy a visual test to find who are the villains but it is inexplicably only too rarely used. There is also the standard problem that guns seem to have an inexhaustible source of rounds without the user reloading. There is also a puzzle involving parachutes that I believe could have been solved more easily and safely.

Actually, the first little surprise of the film is the banner for the production company Marv. Marv’s banner at the beginning of the film can only be read by people not colour blind. There is a rather egregious product placement for a fast food chain.

Familiars in the cast include Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Jack Davenport, Tom Bell and even Mark Hamill and these days what is a spy film without Mark Strong of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘The Imitation Game’? George Richmond is responsible for cinematography with some breathtaking natural visuals and other times he seems to capture a 3-D effect, though the film was not released in 3-D.

This film is really an original, the first of its kind. See it before a dozen imitators come along. I rate ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Mark R. Leeper

© Mark R. Leeper 2015

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