It has been widely reported that Matthew Vaughn wanted to do a Bond movie. Fate is a funny thing because Sam Mendes got that job. So, instead of Daniel Craig as Bond, we get Colin Firth as a more refined, more kick-ass version of the classic spy mold in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Even in this historic best year of film, Movie Fanatic can promise that this film, based on the graphic novel miniseries by Mark Millar about a supremely secretive British spy agency, will be in our top 15 of 2015.
Taron Egerton is a find as Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin, a youthful English thug who's going nowhere fast. After Eggsy is arrested for car theft, Firth's Galahad (each member of the Kingsman is named for a member of King Arthur’s Round Table) bails him out. He sees something in this kid and believes he could do something more -- much more.
Galahad introduces him to the Kingsman and opens his eyes to a world where this one can help the greater good by fighting for right versus wrong all over the world. And it is all without the oversight of any government and with the most innovative and uniquely British series of gadgets.
Meanwhile, an evil is emerging.
It’s Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine. Now, Jackson plays this telecommunications mogul with a lisp. Initially that speech impediment is distracting, but quickly Jackson’s thespian power took us over and made that just one tick in an overly complicated character. His tech giant's product is in practically everybody’s pocket. His wish is to make those smart phones, that are everywhere, into the ultimate villain’s weapon.
Only the Kingsman can stop him.
That battle is told while we are simultaneously treated to Eggsy going through an exhaustive training process with a slew of other recruits. It definitely has some of the feeling of Vaughn’s last movie, X-Men: First Class. But that is where the comparisons have to begin and end. The Kingsman are human. They’re just smarter, savvier and even more of a lethal weapon when they are ready for the field.
Vaughn has painted a world that feels like a classic spy movie world on hyper-comic book steroids. His production lines are clean. The filmmaker’s shots are so brilliantly framed that we think Kingsman: The Secret Service needs multiple viewings to catch everything that is thrown at the audience's eyes. We get as much enjoyment living in this universe through Eggsy’s eyes as he does experiencing this ever-opening world.
Where to start with Egerton as Eggsy? He is given a true character arc to work with that isn’t stereotypical for a genre that could have easily gone that way. He’s not overly poor or overtly uneducated. Eggsy has just gotten a bad roll of the life dice. Galahad knows it and will not let up on his charge until he sits at their modern round table as one of the Kingsman knights combating evil for freedom-loving peoples of the world.
We also have to mention Mark Strong as the Kingsman who is primarily in charge of the upstarts’ training. Strong’s Merlin could not have had a better moniker. And when is Michael Caine never bloody brilliant? His Arthur is as in command in the most sophisticated of ways. Caine plays him like a wise patriarch who is firmly in control of a world awash in chaos.
However, this is Firth’s movie. From beginning to end, he delivers a performance that we never knew he had in him. Sure, he’s got the Best Actor Oscar (for The King's Speech) and Firth is considered one of the finest (and most popular) members of his acting generation. Yet what he does in Kingsman as Galahad pushes the boundaries of what we’ve seen action heroes do in decades.
Don’t tell this guy he’s in his fifties! Firth is simultaneously tragic, thrilling and possesses a tenacity for hand-to-hand combat through intense weapons work that eclipses action stars half his age.
Vaughn may not have gotten the chance (yet) to do a Bond movie. But, what Vaughn has given us with his latest film -- our Kingsman: The Secret Service review can proudly report -- is something that is so much more fantastical, fun and, yes, fierce.