Gleefully landing right in the middle of the worthy-but-ever-so-slightly-tedious grind of ‘Award Season’, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is an outlandish breath of fresh air; an elegant and deceptively clever action comedy thriller which delivers a long-overdue fight back for the gentleman spy of old against the current crop of gritty, serious pretenders to the throne.
When a veteran agent of the secretive Kingsman organisation, haunted by a mistake from the past, chooses an unconventional candidate for the toughest job interview in the world, the idea is snootily dismissed by his peers. Taking the young man under his wing, he embarks on one of the biggest missions of his career: stopping a megalomaniac billionaire intent on ushering in a new world order.
Based loosely on the comic book by Mark Miller and Dave Gibbons, and with Jane Goldman once again on scripting duty, director Matthew Vaughan has come up trumps once more. Funny, violent and action-packed, this tremendous film merrily tweaks the foibles of the classic James Bond while at the same time honouring and updating the traditions to bring them into the present, with an exquisite polish and impeccable tailoring. With the same kind of acknowledgement of the reality of modern daily life that “Attack The Block” had, Vaughan’s film plunges us straight into a familiar and imperfect world but with the added benefit of a benevolent super-secret society that owes as much to “The Avengers” (the Steed and Emma Peel ones) as it does to 007.
Having gathered together a tremendous cast, the film wastes no time in having them get down to business with the likes of Jack Davenport ably demonstrating why he would have been a fantastic James Bond (thirty to forty years ago), Michael Caine appearing more spritely than he has in recent films and Mark Hamill makes a welcome return to the big screen in advance of his much more anticipated appearance.
However, the film belongs to Colin Firth – who really steps up into the bad-ass big leagues and Taron Egerton, who impresses enormously in an unbelievably assured motion picture debut. As the elegant gentleman spy and the street thug, the two form a fantastic and realistic rapport, sparking off each other brilliantly. Samuel L Jackson has a whale of a time as the villainous Valentine, joyously sending up the conventions of supervillainy while still presenting a credible threat to our heroes, thanks to the help of his lethal sidekick Gazelle (Sofia Boutella).
The film wisely balances the usual spy school training hijinks and rivalries with the more experienced agents’ investigations and while it largely neglects the sex and nudity of its ancestry, it compensates by doubling down on the laughs, the violence and the old-school gadgetry. But Goldman and Vaughan have packed more than just punches and punch lines into “Kingsman” and there’s a sharp edge to the script which has subtle points to make about the insidious ubiquity of technology, economic inequality and class struggles and how our paths in life are determined. It never once forgets, though, that its prime purpose is to deliver a rollickingly good adventure and manages to keep the commentary light-hearted, not bogged down by the issues.
It’s a profane, violent and laugh-out-loud-funny love letter to the spy movies of yesteryear with a decidedly 21st Century attitude and a cracking cast at the top of their game. I know it’s early days and there are a lot – a lot – of big movies to come out this year, but I’ll be astonished if “Kingsman: The Secret Service” doesn’t feature in my Top Ten list come the end of 2015.