There’s a moment in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, where our hero, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) comes face to face with the leading antagonist, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) – only for the pair to indulge in a meta conversation about spy movies. When asked about the current state of the genre, Harry responds by declaring that “they’re too serious nowadays”. Well, that’s certainly something Vaughn has sought to rectify, because this unashamedly and unrelentingly enjoyable piece makes for immensely entertaining cinema.
Based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons original comic book – and now adapted by Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman, we enter into the underground world of the Kingsman, where an exclusive, small number of upper class spies help protect mankind with several life-threatening missions. Following the death of a valued member, and considering the one-in-one-out policy, the head of the organisation (Michael Caine) sets each remaining comrade the task of picking a youngster to represent them, and compete for the one and only spot. Going heavily against type, Harry handpicks Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as his entrant, as the working-class kid from a council estate comes up against a far more affluent, privileged collective. Though the competitors backgrounds suddenly become irrelevant, as they’re faced with the very real mission of defeating the notorious and sadistic tech-genius billionaire Valentine, who plans to eliminate the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants, alongside his formidable assistant, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).
There’s a playful edge to this title, as a film that offers very little other than pure entertainment and escapism – seemingly not intent on achieving anything more. While there can be criticisms that perhaps this picture does disregard the socio-political context somewhat, and barely revels in the more dramatic, human side – it’s rare to see a film that has a sole purpose to simply, and irreverently engross and amuse the audience and often you can’t ask for much more than that. In some regards, pathos and sentimentality can suffocate action movies, so the decision to deviate away from any potential mawkishness or superfluous romantic subplots is refreshing.
The persistent meta and good-natured self-referential remarks are a clear sign of Vaughn and Goldman’s intentions, as a film that thrives in frivolity. While the element of Eggsy’s class is not substantially delved into, there remains a pertinent, satirical undercurrent to this title, which works incredibly well – to place this surrealistic, elaborate tale in a relatable environment and a world we know, using global warming and our ever-increasingly reliability on modern technology as a means of driving this narrative forwards.
This affectionately traditional story of the underdog is a remarkably fun piece of cinema, and helped along by a star turn from Egerton – showing a somewhat contrasting, if equally as accomplished performance to that in Testament of Youth, while matched at every turn by his co-star Sophie Cookson, who plays his fellow Kingsman applicant Roxy. Calling a film a ‘riot’ has always seemed like mere poster-quote fodder, but there are few other words that best describe this production quite so aptly.