Review: Kingsman The Secret Service

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In adapting Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ Kingsman The Secret Service, director Matthew Vaughan and long term screenwriting partner Jane Goldman have fashioned a very modern take on the tongue in cheek spy flicks of yore. The result is a highly entertaining origin story, a good-hearted transformation tale, from gutter bling to bespoke Mayfair-ing. My Fair Flint, if you will. It’s scattershot, scatalogical, and oh so bloody. I was left gasping and guffawing at the audaciousness of the quick cutting gore on display.

Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, aka Galahad, gentleman spy in super secret independent intelligence organisation The Kingsmen (as an aside, if they all have Arthurian Knights sobriquets, why don’t they sit around a round table?). Years earlier, his mistake cost the life of an apprentice, who saved his life on a mission. Present day, the man’s well meaning but directionless grown son, Garry “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) uses Harry’s get out of jail free card after a spot of bother with the law, and his mum’s unsuitable new boyfriend. Harry has been watching over Eggsy, and is disappointed with his failure to fulfil his promising potential, so offers him the chance to qualify as the Kingsmen’s latest recruit, against the prejudice of his boss, “Arthur” (Michael Caine), and other toffee nosed candidates.

So far, so standard, with a nice line in humour and Pygmalion (“Pretty Weapon?”) training tropes, overseen by the Q-like “Merlin” (Mark Strong, doing what must be a deliberately wonky Scottish accent). Eggsy is taught the merits of good manners and tailoring (“Oxfords, not brogues“), and introduced to a whole new dressing room of deadly devices, via the Kingsman Savile Row tailors shop front.

However, it’s when the villain, I.T billionaire genius Valentine (a lisping, ghetto-styled Samuel L Jackson, who can’t stand the sight of blood) must be stopped from implementing his own take on the human cull plot of James Bond’s Moonraker, that the bonkers, balletic blood letting begins. Harry infiltrates a mass hysteria free for all rage in a Westboro Baptist Church – alike congregation. They are guinea pigs triggered by Valentine’s fiendish device, incorporated in a free simcard distributed to the populace. This has the dubiously cathartic effect of an off the chain Harry dispatching bigots by the bucketload, with bullet and blunt instrument galore, all scored to Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘s Freebird. Firth’s scrapping skills have certainy progressed since Bridget Jones’ Diary.

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But as excellent and unexpected as Firth is in A Single (Action) Man mode, the film, an origin tale, wouldn’t work without the young hero. Newcomer Egerton doesn’t disappoint. He’s by turns dopey, dashing and disarming, asking a kiss as a reward for the rescue of a Swedish Princess, but not hesitating to avail of her eye-wateringly bad taste upgrade (a very cheeky visual pun on a Roger Moore gag from Moonraker).This signals the best use of Roxy Music’s Slave To Love on screen since Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon.

Vaughan is clearly a risk-taker, betting the farm (or his listed country pile in this case) on getting this medium budget, indie spy flick made on his own terms (Warner Brothers are distributing only). His foul-mouthed, bloody cartoon carnage is clearly not for everyone. While it’s doubtful Kingsman will be fondly remembered as a classic, it has enough fizz and a surprising undercurrent of charm and morals (be your own man, hold your head high, that kind of thing) to while away the time. At a push, Harry’s wall of ridiculous Sun front page headlines, that obfuscate the secret missions where he’s saved the world, could be seen as a take on the sheep-like conflation of media and populace in the modern age.

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As henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a martial artist with prosthetic blades for lower legs, blasts slo-mo out of an atrium window to leap and spin in glittering combat with a Harry Palmer -specced, suited up Eggsy, you may find yourself wistfully wishing for the fun times of Britain’s best secret agent, EONs ago. Your move, Bond.

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