I am very proud to report that I did not see 50 Shades of Grey over the weekend. I have never and will never read the books, and I have never and will never see the movie. I take great pride in both of these facts. I spent my movie theater time last weekend watching Matthew Vaughn’s extremely entertaining and vastly superior Kingsman: The Secret Service.
I can think of three ways to best describe Kingsman. The first is that if Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost were to make a spy movie, it would be pretty similar to Kingsman. The second is that Vaughn’s film is kind of like a Sean Connery-era Bond film on crack and/or steroids. The third is that the Kingsmen are kind of like British G.I. Joes, a secret agency of world-saving badasses.
The main difference between the Kingsmen and G.I. Joes is that, while the American world-savers are of the more rough-and-tumble, down-and-dirty persuasion, the British world-savers are consummate gentlemen in exquisitely-tailored suits.
The film’s main character is Harry Hart, code-named Galahad, played by the wonderful actor Colin Firth. Other members include Merlin, played by Mark Strong, and Arthur, the head of the organization, played by Michael Caine (because who else could it be?).
The plot concerns Eggsy, a young man recruited by Harry to join the Kingsmen. The film splits its time between Eggsy’s training and the efforts of a rich madman named Richmond Valentine (played by Samuel L. Jackson, speaking with a lisp and wearing an array of multicolored New York Yankees baseball caps) to exterminate most of mankind.
I won’t go into much more detail about the rest of the plot, but suffice to say that Valentine’s evil plan involves mind-controlling everyone on the planet to basically get them all to beat each other to death, which leads to a couple of brutally hilarious scenes late in the movie in which people on the streets of London and the beaches of Rio are all beating the absolute hell out of each other.
And speaking of beating the hell out of people, director Matthew Vaughn has a real eye for fast-paced, brutal action. His previous films include the comic-book adaptations X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, as well as the bone-cracking crime thriller Layer Cake, which gave Daniel Craig one of his first starring roles.
With Kingsman, Vaughn perfects his particular style of hyperkinetic action, producing wickedly fast-paced, intricately-choreographed, and at times shockingly violent fight scenes. The standout fight takes place in a church where Valentine tests his mind-control apparatus, which leads to an incredibly violent sequence in which all the occupants of the church, including Harry, all go insane and murder the hell out of each other, with Harry as the only survivor due to his lethal spy skills.
The experience of watching Colin Firth kick ass is pretty awesome. Matthew Vaughn seems to specialize in making action stars out of people you would really not expect to be action stars, and watching Firth, a 54-year-old actor known mainly for romantic comedies and serious dramas, beat the hell out of a whole building full of people reminded me of watching then-13-year-old Chloe Moretz kill waves of mobsters in Kick-Ass. It also reminded me of watching Liam Neeson beating Albanian sex-traffickers to death in the original Taken.
Kingsman is heavily reminiscent of Sean Connery’s Bond films (which are directly referenced at one point in the movie), except with a much higher body count and many more f-words. I don’t know why, but hearing people with very proper-sounding English accents say f*ck and sh*t a lot is always endlessly hilarious to me.
The spy gadgets used in the film, which include such gems as cigarette lighters that double as hand grenades, bulletproof umbrellas that shoot various projectiles, pens that can be used to poison people, watches that fire sleeping darts, and knife-tipped shoes, are all the kinds of things that Q would supply Bond with back in the 60’s and 70’s (the knife-shoes, for example, are straight out of From Russia With Love). And of course, those finely-tailored suits are also bulletproof.
Don’t go into Kingsman expecting a serious spy thriller in the vein of the recent Bond films, go into it simply expecting to have a good time and you will not be disappointed. It’s based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar, who also wrote the graphic novels that were the basis for the films Wanted and Kick-Ass, and if you’ve seen either of those films you have a general idea of what kind of insanity to expect from this one.
I mean, the villain’s henchwoman has prosthetic razor-blade legs, which is every bit as insane and ridiculous as it sounds, and also allowed the marketing department for the movie to spoof the famous poster for the 1981 Roger Moore Bond film For Your Eyes Only (which, for the record, is my favorite of Moore’s Bond movies).
See what they did there? I mean, who doesn’t remember that Bond poster? I wasn’t even alive when that movie came out and even I remember that poster.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not perfect of course. The plot follows a lot of very familiar beats and I had issues with the unsatisfying and anticlimactic death of a major character, but as a whole the movie is still very enjoyable. It’s a whirlwind blend of hyperkinetic action, over-the-top spy shenanigans, and some really great British actors. Colin Firth in particular looks like he is having a great time, and you probably will too.