Kingsman: The Secret Service – A Retrospective
By John Saavedra
There aren’t many spy movies quite like Kingsman: The Secret Service anymore. Certainly, the Bond films have abandoned the outlandish tone that Kingsman gleefully celebrates, which is ironic since the latter couldn’t exist without the early Sean Connery and Roger Moore spy films. While the Bond movies have become more and more grounded in reality, especially in the Daniel Craig era, Kingsman is an over-the-top action flick with tons of gadgets, weapons, and secret blades that stick out of fancy dress shoes.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a nostalgic look at the Cold War era of espionage and the movies it inspired. Secret agents in nice suits, femme fatales, martinis made based on very specific instructions, evil lairs, and a very convoluted plot to take over the world. Actually, one of the most interesting aspects of Kingsman’s story (which is based on the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons) is Richmond Valentine’s (Samuel L. Jackson) plan to rid the world of its population in order to save it.
The movie gets its villain just right. Not only is Jackson’s performance as the rich megalomaniac with a lisp a winning one, there’s also something sympathetic about Valentine. No, his plan is evil as all hell and a commentary on the class inequality that’s as dangerous to our planet as the melting of the ice caps. (The fact that most of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful people can fit into a few bunkers is a point Kingsman doesn’t gloss over.) But it’s rooted in the very simple fact that no one ever listened to his pleas about the environment, global warming, or the way mankind has been polluting the planet.
It’s as if Elon Musk were to lose his mind over the U.S. dropping out of the Paris climate accord and decided to take matters into his own maniacal hands. Valentine, being one of the richest men in the world — most closely a parallel to Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs — and with a hell of a Messiah complex, sees his plan as the only way to save the planet. It’s not greed that drives Valentine — at least not consciously (again, he’s chosen to only save RICH people) — but a very real threat that he believes only he can eradicate via mass genocide.
Kingsman does a great job of balancing both the very serious tone of Valentine’s story with the much more fun secret agent antics of Colin Firth’s Galahad and Taron Egerton’s Eggsy. Firth is all style, the closest analog to Mr. Bond with his pressed suits, smooth talking, and love for a “proper” martini. (I do love that one bit of dialogue in the third act when Eggsy reveals how Galahad’s version of a martini is made, which involves stirring for ten seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth… What a great crack at Bond’s “shaken, not stirred!”)
Egerton’s more grounded, street-smart character gives this movie about dapper gentlemen spies and evil moguls a nice balance. It’s not very often that we get to watch a movie about the origins of a spy, from his training to his first mission, but Kingsman takes Eggsy through all of those steps efficiently, without ever losing a beat. In fact, there’s not a moment when the film isn’t entertaining its audience with an action sequence or a good joke.
Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that director Matthew Vaughn had made X-Men: First Class by this point. In case you don’t remember, that movie pretty much opens like a Bond film, with a suit-wearing Magneto taking out the men who doomed his family to death during the Holocaust. If those Fassbender scenes weren’t enough to convince Barbara Broccoli to hire Vaughn for the next James Bond movie, then Kingsman certainly should be. Of course, Vaughn’s retro sensibility, his love of the more outlandish aspects of the spy genre, might not be such a great fit for what the Bond franchise is currently striving for, which is serious drama without the crazy gadgets that can launch you into space in order to shoot a missile at an evil villain’s satellite. But perhaps the Bond movies could use a bit of that after Spectre?
One thing you’ll never see in the surprisingly tame Bond films is the level of violence showcased in Kingsman. And no I don’t mean that awesome moment of psychedelia when all of those heads explode into something resembling fireworks. I mean the action sequence in the church, which has to be one of the most violent scenes ever depicted by a blockbuster film. There’s nothing elegant about that scene, as people stab, shoot, bite, punch, kick, and impale each other after Valentine unleashes his evil signal on his racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic test subjects. The scene is overwhelming, delivered from the perspective of the lethal Galahad, which makes this moment all the more brutal. Although those scenes are out there, I’m not sure I’ve watched anything as shockingly violent as this action scene.
But again, Kingsman masterfully balances out that scene with the follow-up sequence in which Valentine shoots Galahad in the head outside of the church and then hilariously exclaims that killing someone doesn’t feel good at all, to the bewilderment of his murderous henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), who doesn’t understand why her boss is so squeamish. Oh, Valentine’s squeamishness actually has a great payoff at the end of the movie when he vomits at the sight of the bloody blade protruding from his wounded chest. I seriously love all the jokes in this movie.
If you’re a big fan of the spy genre, then Kingsman: The Secret Service is a movie you won’t have a hard time loving. It even features some brief bits with the legendary Michael Caine, who is spectacular as the enigmatic Arthur, the leader of the Kingsmen (if you haven’t guessed already, this intelligence agency is inspired by the Knights of the Roundtable). And if you love this one, you’re in luck because a sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is out in theaters tomorrow. Until then, pour yourself a martini and check out the first one.