KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
(Dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2014)
In Matthew Vaughn’s fifth film, an adaptation of a graphic novel series by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, the writer/director outfits the world of James Bond in the cartoonish formula of his KICK ASS films. That is to say, there’s a lot of stylized violence with a high body count, a ton of glib one-liners, and constant attempts at meta-commentary.
A suave, dapper Colin Firth (when is he not suave and dapper?) stars as gentleman spy Harry Hart (codename: Galahad), a member of “an independent, international, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion.” Firth is well cast as the mannered British badass, and at first, especially in a scene where he lays out a bunch of brutal youths in a pub, it's a blast to see him in the part.
The slick scenario concerns Firth’s Hart recruiting Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the son of one of his late colleagues, for the elite squad, but first the young London street-tough has to compete with a bunch of smug, better-bred candidates, and, of course, one friendly female (Sophie Cookson), for the same position.
A lisping Samuel L. Jackson plays the super villain they’re training to defeat, an internet billionaire named Richmond Valentine who’s planning on wiping out most of the world’s population through a mind-controlling cellphone app.
For roughly half of this film’s running time I was going along with its poppy charm, but a scene in which Firth, affected by the villain’s violence-inducing app, goes on a murderous rampage and slaughters a church full of hate-spewing, redneck fundamentalist Christians in Kentucky (clearly modeled on the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas) set to the four-minute guitar solo in Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Free Bird,” really lost me.
The in-your-face unfunniness there sadly set the tone for the rest of the film, which involves the customary infiltration of the enemy’s secret lair (located inside a snow-covered mountain), and much more gratuitous murder in the form of hundreds of heads exploding in the form of rainbow-colored fireworks.
None of this is as witty, clever, or exciting as it wants to be. James Bond satires, homages, or imitations have been around as long as the iconic series itself, and after the likes of Maxwell Smart, Derek Flint, Matt Helm, Johnny English, Austin Powers, and dozens of others have done it to death, KINGSMAN brings nothing new to the table.
Even CARS 2’s secret agent subplot that had Michael Caine voicing an Aston Martin had more Bondian bite than this. Caine is also on hand here as the head of the Kingsman, bringing a little gravitas to the proceedings but not much else. Also along for the ride is Sofia Boutella as Jackson’s henchwoman Gazelle who has CGI-ed bionic blades for legs (one of the few entertaining elements on display), Mark Strong as the Kingman’s gadget and weapons specialist (you know, like Bond’s Q?), and Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill) as a British climate scientist that Jackson kidnaps early on.
It’s a fine cast, but Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman’s screenplay isn’t equipped with enough flashy fun for a whole film. What starts out as a tongue-in-cheek spy comedy romp ends up resembling a rowdy kid just sticking its tongue out at these well worn conventions. And that's about as funny as Jackson's lisp, which sure didn't make me laugh.
KINGSMAN is only a good popcorn picture until the popcorn runs out - the cringe-worthy church scene being where that happened for me.