‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ Review: Matthew Vaughn Makes His Pop Masterpiece

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Do you enjoy kick-ass fight sequences that turn into break-dancing parties? Has it always been a primal fantasy of yours to take out an entire church filled with hate-spewing bigots? Do you believe that a just reward for saving the world should be having anal sex with the damsel in distress? If you answered yes to all of the above, then, boy, do I have a movie for you!

First, let me get the most important part of this “review” out of the way: Matthew Vaughn is an absolute, balls-to-the-wall, batshit crazy genius. I mean, what a filmmaker! Every movie of his that comes out is an event that should not be missed. And, yet, he remains in the confines of a select group of cult filmmakers. I honestly have no qualms about this. He is right where he belongs. I have yet to see his debut feature, Layer Cake, but that will probably change within a week or so. Stardust is one of my favorite underrated movies of all-time, occupying the same area that films like Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus do as my perfect idea of a comfort movie; it is seriously our generation’s The Princess Bride (so you should see it if you haven’t already!). Kick-Ass is the very definition of a cult film, although it is probably my least favorite of his filmography, as I don’t fully believe that it completely commits or maintains its aesthetic of verisimilitude, but it is still incredibly entertaining and it is miles better than most unoriginal blockbusters that are released week in and week out. X-Men: First Class is the oddest superhero film ever released, and it single-handedly contains more memorable and fun moments in its perfectly-paced running time than something like Inception, released around the same time, does (sorry I am name-dropping like crazy here). It was my number one favorite film of 2011. He takes everything you love about a filmmaker like Tarantino and kicks it up to notch 11, while always putting his self-owned stamp on it. I would never make films like he does, but that shouldn’t mean that I can’t be all the more thankful that there is a filmmaker out there who is so distinct in his story-telling that one wouldn’t dare replicate or attempt anything similar. With Kingsman: The Secret Service, he has undoubtedly created his masterpiece: a trashy, pop-infused spy movie that aspires no more or no less than rapturously entertaining its core audience across its two-hour running time.

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I loved this movie. It absolutely demands to be seen on the biggest, loudest screen possible. Everything in it: the music, the acting, the action, the themes, and the humor, all coalesce into a cohesive whole that not only wears its influences, such as classic-era James Bond, and even its criticisms, like the Bourne franchise and what James Bond has become post- Casino Royale, proudly on its perfectly posh, polished sleeve, but it also creates an amazingly original, detail-rich universe of its own. It contains such memorable and lovable characters. Colin Firth as Harry Hart, aka Galahad, shows us a side to him that we have never seen before; forget the stuttering King George of The King’s Speech or Pride and Prejudice‘s swooning Mr. Darcy. His true calling is to be a perfectly British, kick-ass weapon that takes out everything in his path, while always remembering to remain faultlessly debonair in his demeanor. Newcomer Taron Egerton has such a high amount of charm and likability as the lead protagonist, with the coolest name ever: Eggsy. Whenever I get a pet, I immediately know what I am going to name it. Speaking of pets, Eggsy spends a significant portion of the movie walking around with a pug named J.B. (after Jack Bauer, not James Bond or Jason Bourne) whom he is tasked with raising as part of his Kingsman training, and it is the cutest thing ever. He is undoubtedly one of the best leads an original action film has had in quite some time. The rest of the Kingsman are filled out with equally entertaining performances by the likes of Vaughn perennial Mark Strong as the Q-esque tech connoisseur Merlin, newcomer Sophie Cookson as Eggsy’s best bud Roxy / Lancelot, in a female performance that is incredibly refreshing and (debatably) progressive, as well as the ever-reliable Michael Caine as Arthur, leader of the Kingsman.

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As Harry himself says, a spy movie is only as good and memorable as its villains are, and this movie seriously has two of the greatest villains in a movie ever. Samuel L. Jackson shines better than he has in a role since Django Unchained as the chief antagonist Richmond Valentine, a tech billionaire who has a hilarious lisp and can’t stomach seeing a single drop of blood even though he is a mass-murdering genocidal maniac. Along with Eddie Redmayne’s Balem Abrasax in Jupiter Ascending, 2015 has already added two of cinema’s greatest villains to its pantheon, and it is only February. Another awesome and memorable villain is Valentine’s henchwoman, Gazelle, played by model and famous dancer Sophie Boutella. She has fricking blades for legs!! I seriously can no longer hide my excitement for how awesome this movie is!! Boutella gives a highly impressive, physical performance that calls to mind other classic female killing machines like Vaughn’s own Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass or Hammer Girl from The Raid 2. She steals the limelight whenever she is on-screen. The cast is rounded out by other fun performances from the likes of Jack Davenport as another Kingsman agent and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill (!), as an environment-obsessed professor.

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In case you couldn’t tell already, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a killer time at the movies, as is evident from my lack of professionalism in reviewing it in such a rapid-fire way. I fully believe a film like this embodies why blockbuster action films are made in the first place. It pays homage to spy movies like James Bond that have come before, and yet isn’t afraid to lambast the directional rut said gritty franchises have gotten stuck in, while creating something entirely original and never-seen-before. This film is first and foremost all about the action, and there are some incredibly memorable moments that you will never forget, allowing Kingsman to be placed on the timeline of cinematic action royalty. Whether it is seeing Harry single-handedly take out an entire pub full of neighborhood gangsters, watching the upper class of society, including a majority of the world’s leaders, have their heads explode in a colorful display of fireworks, or Eggsy storm a snowy mountain retreat in an attempt to save the world while Roxy flies up into outer space to dismantle a satellite, Moonraker-style, if you love action, you will love this movie. What impresses me most about Vaughn’s kinetic filmmaking is that he is a firm believer in showing, not telling, and he does that expertly well in this movie as he has also done in the other movies that comprise his filmography. He doesn’t pander by talking down to his audience in explaining everything, and he allows his action scenes to revolve around his characters, something that is incredibly refreshing and hard to find in today’s cinema. Of course, the greatest action sequence of all in the film is a seamless, nearly single-take, confined, and beautifully staged violent outburst in a Kentucky hate church, where Firth’s Galahad demolishes the entire organization with a variety of impromptu weapons, in what is one of the most gorgeous, violent action scenes ever made. Be prepared to name it one of your favorites of all time after seeing this movie.

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Furthermore, the training sequences of what it takes to be a Kingsman are incredibly compelling as well, including a daring, nail-biting HALO jump exercise that will have you on the edge of your seat, and, of course, revolves firmly around the characters and their personalities. I seriously love Matthew Vaughn so much. If any director is allowed to have his cake and eat it too, it is certainly him.

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He also manages to include a biting depiction of the division of social class in this film that may go completely unawares on first viewing, and thinking about it, it is easily something I would enjoy writing a paper about someday. The Kingsman are perfectly coiffed and Britishly debonair in their demeanor, always stressing the importance of being a gentleman to the hoodlum Eggsy. Valentine’s whole plot revolves around saving the upper class while allowing those less worthy to destroy each other out of self-fuelled anger in order to “heal” the world from the virus that is global warming. His way of achieving this is by controlling these people through their technology, a reliable method since we are all constantly on our cell phones every minute of every day. Even the members of the Kentucky hate church have their cell phones on while they are so-called worshipping. It is through technology that Vaughn unites and rectifies the similarities between the classes, but it remains interesting in how he still manages to destroy one whole class in the climax of the film while choosing to save the other. However, his hero remains a perfect synthesis of the two. While Eggsy ultimately becomes a gentleman, he is able to maintain a perfect balance between both his newfound upper-class behavior and his lower-class upbringing, as exemplified when he gains the upper hand during a life or death moment when he is betrayed. He does this by using a slight of hand, something he learned spending significant portions of his life hanging out on the streets, and while he does learn how to be proper and debonair in saving the world, he also “lowers” himself when it comes to earning his reward.

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There is only one odd issue I may or may not have with the film, and it is the final joke that the movie ends on: the aforementioned “reward”: an anal sex gag. I understand Vaughn’s reasoning for including it, but it seems weirdly, and further, degrading to the damsel in distress trope, in a movie that arguably has great depictions of female characters, whether it be Roxy, Gazelle, or Eggsy’s own mother. Vaughn has always had problems with his female characters, and this film continues that trend. True, he has given us the amazing Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass and the lovable Yvaine in Stardust, but he has also mistreated or ignored characters like Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggert or January Jones’s Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class, which you could technically argue is due to the ‘60s period setting of that movie, but they could still certainly have been handled better. This film contains the best and worst of Vaughn when it comes to females, but, alas, it ends the film on a pretty shocking note. However, there is an old Alan Moore adage that states “art should be shocking”, but I am not sure if this is what that means or should entail. It certainly made me uncomfortable, but maybe it is not only Vaughn’s nod to the copious innuendos that most Bond films end on (“Bond is attempting re-entry”, anyone?), but is also his way of pointing out that we are much more accepting of graphic violence than we are of sex on-screen, something that has always baffled and confused me. It makes no sense to me personally that I should be hypocritically offended (which is really not the proper word to be used here) by an anal sex joke, but I should revel in President Obama’s head exploding or Gazelle slicing a Kingsman agent in half straight down the middle, not to mention the pure joy that is the aforementioned show-stopping church scene. Vaughn is pointing the finger firmly at the audience making them culpable by including such a joke, and it is the only (arguable) sour note in an otherwise perfect (a word I don’t throw around lightly) pop masterpiece that is not only fun, but contains a heap of dark humor and makes a statement on the division of class in society.

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While most people would wish that the film wouldn’t end on such a cringe-worthy note, I am still happy that Vaughn had the balls to keep it in there, allowing his magnum opus to continually push the envelope of what a movie can show or even be about. You may wish the violence wasn’t as graphic or the humor wasn’t as unabashedly dark as it is, but as Eggsy himself says, this isn’t that kind of movie. I loved Kingsman: The Secret Service so much, from its action scenes and its musical score, composed by the reliable Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson, as well as its soundtrack (including a great use of the guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”) to its lovable characters, and all the way to its themes and how it presents them. I may have never wanted more badly for a film to become a franchise, which is one of the greatest compliments I have ever given a movie. I had a great time “reviewing” this film, and, of course, an even greater time watching it, and I look forward for all of the numerous re-watches I will have with it in the years to come. Between Blackhat, Jupiter Ascending, and this, the early quarter of 2015 has already been filled with moments of cinematic bliss for me, and it comes with my highest level of recommendation that you go out and escape from the troubles of life for two wonderfully glorious hours by seeing such a downright fun, and funny, treat of a movie. You (most likely) will not regret it, and, always remember, manners maketh the man.

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  • Director:

Matthew Vaughn

  • Rating:

R

  • Runtime:

129 min.

  • Studio:

20th Century Fox

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