What if you took all the story beats from a James Bond movie and turned them up to 11?
When Casino Royale was being advertised a few years ago, the tagline often being used was “This is not your father’s James Bond.” Kingsman: The Secret Service is directed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men First Class, Layer Cake, Kick Ass), who was under consideration for directing the James Bond reboot. This, then, is possibly a preview of what we might have seen from a James Bond film. But while it takes the basic framework of a classic spy thriller, the execution is much, much more.
Kingsman takes the hero’s journey story and sticks it on top of a James Bond film. Our hero who needs to journey is Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, a newcomer who couldn’t get his name on the poster. He’s a tough but smart kid who gets into his fair share of trouble, and needs to find discipline and his inner gentleman to become the great spy his father wanted to be. Colin Firth’s Harry Hart — a superspy for a very secret organization — had his life saved by Eggsy’s father, and now attempts to bring Eggsy into the fold. A very strong cast, including Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Jack Davenport as suave British gentleman spies, helps him on his way.
*If you want to know the whole plot, you could watch one of the super spoilery trailers (they do, in fact, show the last shot of the movie — I’ll let you guess which one it is), but I knew nothing of the film’s plot and watching it all unfold was quite a joy.
Samuel L Jackson is the villain here, playing a tech billionaire with a little too much power and not enough morals. He’s the ultimate megalomaniac, and he thinks he’e saving the world as he tries to destroy it. At least his intentions are good, I guess? It’s a particularly cartoonish portrayal, but this is, after all, a comic book movie. (From The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.) His henchman, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) has blades for feet, and she really knows how to kick. She’d be the best selling action figure, for sure.
What really impressed me about this movie was the tonal shifts, which were both surprising and effective. The whole movie has a breezy pace with plenty of humor, but then the mood can turn on a dime. One moment, we’re on the edge of our seat worrying about a dog in mortal danger, and in the next, we’re laughing about a different dog’s demise, and in the next, we’re dropped into a scene of such brutality, it wouldn’t have been out of place in The Raid. Dashing expectations in the middle of the movie is a hard trick to pull off, but it’s done over and over again here, and it works every time.
Kingsman is an excellent movie-movie. It’s a fun crowd pleaser with some true surprises. I do recommend it wholeheartedly, but it’s definitely not one to take the kids to see. It’s R-Rated for a lot of reasons, and the squeamish might want to stay away. And if you were thinking of seeing some other movie this weekend, you should know that there are approximately 27 fewer minutes of sex, but several more handsome men in suits.
Kingsman: The Secret Service opens in theaters today.