It’s been 38 years since one of the greatest Bond films, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, made its way into theaters and the hearts of Spy Movie fans everywhere.
The Bond of today, as well as the Spy genre as a whole, is far more serious, brooding and well-removed from the swinging whimsy of the 60’s and 70’s; something that director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) looks to remedy with his love letter to large scale spycraft with a wink, Kingsman: The Secret Service.
The film, starring Colin Firth (in easily the most dashing spy turn since the days of Roger Moore) Samuel L. Jackson and relative newcomer Taron Egerton, is very loosely based on the Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, Wanted) comic book The Secret Service, and by comparison much more imaginative than the source material.
Firth stars as Harry Hart, an agent in the employ of the Kingsman, an independent secret society of spies charged with protecting the world, as British spies are wont to do, while wearing extremely well-tailored suits. Hart loses a fellow member of his team during a raid on some Middle-Eastern stronghold and as such is honor-bound to inform the family of their loss, but offer protection over the fallen agent’s son, should the need ever rise. Naturally, such a need arises (otherwise we wouldn’t have a story) 17 years later when the now adolescent Eggsy (Egerton) finds himself in a self-inflicted pickle.
While the film’s setup is not unlike most films of it’s ilk, this is not in any way a bad thing. The film itself plays like an homage to a number of genres, including latter-day British crime films, all wrapped warmly within the auspices of wonderfully overblown spy actioners of the 70’s.
But homage was never going to be enough for Vaughn and his screenwriting partner Jane Goldman as they take the familiar tropes of the spy game and add a bit of the old ultraviolence for good measure. And boy howdy, do they ever, as Kingsman features some of the most imaginative uses of violence ever used in a spy film, all while giving a cheeky wink to what came before.
Like the Bond films, Kingsman features an eccentric villain in the form of Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmond Valentine, a character best described as a mix between Flavor Flav, Steve Jobs and Sylvester the Cat. With a vocal delivery that boasts a grating, yet self-aware lisp, on the surface, Jackson doesn’t really fit into the film at all, but it’s that jarring presence that makes the most sense as both homage and parody of eccentric supervillains of spy films past.
For every eccentric supervillain, there also comes with them a freakishly distorted henchmen, which in this film comes in the form of Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a sexy, yet extremely lethal assistant who boasts razor sharp blades where her legs used to be, appendages that Vaughn is in no way shy in showing their level of effectiveness.
The world domination plot that Valentine hatches isn’t too far removed from anything you’d see in a Bond film, and while the sameness certainly doesn’t matter, the execution sets up what is possibly the greatest use of Lynard Skynard’s Freebird in a film to date. While other reviews will almost certainly spoil the scene in question, take my word for it, it’s one of those things that has to be seen to be believed, and should be experienced fresh. When it comes to the use of popular music in film, Vaughn has a knack for it rivaled only by Scorcese. Without giving away too much, one can find clues to the magnitude of the usage by looking at Vaughn’s previous effort in Kick-Ass where the titular hero provides a monumental denoument as he hovers into view wearing a weaponized jetpack to the sounds of Elvis’ An American Trilogy.
Now imagine that one moment playing over the course of six minutes. Breathtaking.
Also as in his previous films, Vaughn isn’t afraid to take viewers on twists and turns that even lead to the deaths or betrayals of major characters. That may be the one thing that allows Kingsman to rise above the very material it lovingly apes. In Vaughn’s world, the possibility of death is real and there are consequences for everyone. When the smoke clears, protagonists stand to lose as much as the villains, and they do.
Some have criticized the film’s ending as extremely sexist, and in today’s overly conscious society, it most likely is, but within it’s element, it provides a moment that wraps its arms around the very idea of 007, with tongue planted so firmly in cheek it comes out the other side. Once you see the excellent Kingsman: The Secret Service, you’ll know that was a pun very much intended.
Hashim R. Hathaway (Uncle Shimbo) is the host of the Never Daunted Radio Network, and proud father to NeverDaunted.Net. You can reach him on Twitter @NeverDauntedNet