Feb. 23, 2015. I waited a long time for this one. Director Matthew Vaughn has previously brought us “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class,” two dumb-sounding ideas (a schlub superhero and an unwelcome prequel to a rotting franchise, respectively) that ended up way better than they had any right to be. He just has this knack for finding a terrific balance of humor, heart and violence.
I bided my time though the trailers last summer, eagerly awaiting this film’s release around the holidays. Rarely has my heart sank so much in a movie theater than when I saw the bumper announcing that I would have to wait until February for “Kingsman.” After two extra months of overanalyzing the trailers and building the film up in my head, I finally got to see it on opening day and… it was okay.
The overall plot is pretty standard. A young man named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is plucked out of his troubled, aimless life by gentleman spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Hart offers Eggsy a chance to join Kingsman, an elaborate, non-sanctioned spy organization that has been secretly protecting the world for decades. Eggsy survives one perilous test after another, much to the dismay of his snobby colleagues. Meanwhile, a tech billionaire named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has a plan to wipe out most of the world’s population. Eggsy finally aligns with Kingsman in order to take Valentine down.
Really though, the plot is secondary to the film’s humor and action. For humor, the film loves to send up the spy genre, especially James Bond. The film knows that any movie about British secret agents is going to be compared to the Bond franchise, so it has fun with the obvious connections. It’s true that Bond spoofs are nothing new (most people in this era know the Bond movies more from spoofs than the films themselves), but this one is refreshingly genial because it acknowledges that everyone wants to be James Bond. Plus there are a lot of gags that are plenty funny on their own, usually involving Hart’s dryness, Eggsy’s crudeness or Valentine’s craziness. One detraction is that it’s sometimes hard to understand what the characters are saying with the various accents (and one inexplicable speech impediment) flying around.
As for the action, it’s mostly satisfying. I love the 50-something Colin Firth as a combative superspy, and the explosions that make up the film’s opening and an inspiring sequence close to the climax are certainly flamboyant in both senses of the word. But other sequences are missing that spark. Scenes where Eggsy has to navigate Valentine’s doomsday bunker take forever and his heavily-built showdowns with Valentine and his henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) are anticlimactic compared to the blast of a sequence that preceded them. Plus I’m concerned that people are getting the wrong idea about a memorable scene where Hart decimates the entire congregation of an intolerant Southern church. People seem to be misinterpreting the scene as Hart delivering delicious justice to people who deserve it, but it’s actually Hart unwittingly carrying out an attack for Valentine that he would love nothing more than to stop.
Still, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a fun movie, I wouldn’t dare to deny that. All the jokes and action are bound to get the audience laughing and cheering, and I even caught myself applauding at one point. The film may not have quite lived up to my expectations, but I’ll admit that my expectations may have been unreasonably high. This is certainly a rousing movie, just not an amazing one.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five