Manners Maketh Man

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Rating: 7.5/10

I didn’t really see Kingsman coming. For all intents and purposes, my best hope in watching the movie was that it would be a mindlessly entertaining spy story with the solid performances one would expect from a strong cast. Should I have done any real research beforehand (which, as I often am, I’m glad I didn’t), I would have known that oddball director Matthew Vaughn (Kick AssLayer Cake) was at the helm, and that the idea all along was to stay faithful to the film’s genre while also having a lot of fun with it.

Even the plot sounds like a mash-up of any old Bond movie and one of the endless scripts detailing a hopeless kid making good. Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a top-secret Kingsman agent who saw his plan go awry nearly two decades ago when another agent loses his life to save everyone else. Harry bestows a Kingsman coin upon the man’s window, telling her that it’s good for any type of favor. When she rebuffs his offer, he gives the coin to her young son who grows up to be a troublesome young adult in large part thanks to a questionable upbringing that constantly pits him against his insufferable stepfather figure and the gang he leads.

The kid’s name is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), and when he steals a car to play a prank on the aforementioned gangsters he loathes so much, he decides to use his Kingsman coin by calling the number on the back in hopes of salvation. Soon after, Eggsy is released by the authorities and Harry is there to greet him on the steps. Harry and his fellow agents are in need of help following the death of another Kingsman (Jack Davenport’s Lancelot), and each of them is charged by their stately leader (Michael Caine’s Arthur) with the task of finding a possible recruit. Harry believes Eggsy just might be the man for the job.

Eggsy and a slew of other young hopefuls must all endure a lengthy and rigorous training program at the end of which only one will become Kingsman royalty. He quickly bonds with fellow trainee Roxy (Sophie Cookson), as she is the only other person in the program who isn’t an absolute sack of garbage. Throughout the program, Eggsy learns not only the cool gadgetry and fighting styles of the Kingsman group, but their general code and cerebral approach to stopping threats.

As the training program continues, it becomes clear that a huge cloud is on the horizon. A dastardly and eccentric tech billionaire named Valentine (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson) is planning to clear out the less desirable portion of the world’s population through an elaborate and expensive plan in the hopes of building a new world and reducing overcrowding. Eggsy and the other trainees duke it out concurrently with the battle of good and evil.

All of this sounds simple enough, but the plot is merely a means for which Vaughn can deploy his many fun tricks. A good portion of the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek, mimicking the cocksure style of spy movies from last century. The violence and fight scenes are routinely quite over-the-top, but it works wonderfully thanks to the world Vaughn sets up from the beginning. This is not a full-on comedy by any means, but its tone sets up all sorts of bombast despite the serious circumstances presented.

So much of what I liked about Kingsman lies in the details. Samuel L. Jackson, always menacing and constantly barking when playing a villain traditionally, is instead calm and even squeamish. He’s an evil mastermind whose gag reflex is activated if he even sees blood. Colin Firth, an excellent and well-respected thespian, gets to engage in multiple stylish fight scenes and deliver one-liners like he’s been doing them his whole life. There’s a woman with swords for feet. There’s even a pug.

While I’m certain the point of Kingsman is to bury itself in a strict genre while sending it up at the same time, the approach does of course lead to some limitations. While there are surprises throughout (at least one of which I don’t see how anyone could claim to foresee), there aren’t really any opportunities to feel anything or dive deeper into what’s at play on screen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a movie clearly designed for raw entertainment, but it does mean that the run time shouldn’t be the two hours and nine minutes that it is. Some of the fight scenes drag on a bit too long, most notably near the conclusion, but at least they’re never less than visually compelling.

It’s easy to see how Kingsman could have been a run-of-the-mill action movie if it had fallen into the wrong hands. On paper, that’s pretty much what it should have been. Thanks to Vaughn and his capable cast, the film provides a whole lot more than most people watching it would have bargained for, and that makes it a fun and rewarding surprise.

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