'Kingsman' Movie Review: Class Warfare Gets Literal in New Spy Movie That Challenges John Wick for the Head Trauma Trophy

NOTE: This article is a contribution and do not necessarily represent the views of Player One.
Colin Firth is about to beat up a whole lot of people in "Kingsman: The Secret Service."
Colin Firth is about to beat up a whole lot of people in "Kingsman: The Secret Service." 20th Century Fox

Kingsman: The Secret Service has more heads getting shot or blown up than John Wick, suggesting we may be entering a golden age of cinema for lovers of head trauma and bullet splatter. Moreover, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a downright fun spy movie.

While it’s occasionally a little too winky-winky knowing in its efforts to subvert and undermine James Bond, it is nevertheless a success in its own right, proving that secret mountain fortresses, henchmen with useless-deadly talents, and even trusty ol’ boot knives can still stand tall with the grim espionage of our era.

Kingsman: The Secret Service Red Band Trailer

Matthew Vaughn both wrote and directed Kingsman: The Secret Service, and while X-Men: First Class has its merits, Kingsman is his best movie by a long shot, bridging the chasm between normal humans and that inexplicable coterie who love Kick-Ass. Kingsman is profane and violent, but it doesn’t feel like watching a Mark Millar comic (despite being an adaptation of a Mark Millar comic). If you’ve been on the fence with Kingsman, then let me assure you that it’s not Kick-Ass 3: This Time We Put Swearing and Smug Pop Culture Refs in the Spy Mouths.

Opening somewhere in the Middle East (because apparently it’s shorthand for Evil-ville and there’s no need to actually name a country or a reason to be killing its citizens), Kingsman quickly sets up its private Round Table of upper class British spy twits, kills off a few, and sets up both its main villain and the try-outs that will bring lower class chav Eggsy into the fold. Kingsman: The Secret Service keeps the villain’s scheme and the Harry-Potter-for-spies plotlines running in parallel, showing up expensive plops like Man of Steel that let backstory act as a drag on proceedings.

This being a spy movie, the megalomaniacal Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson with a distracting lisp that’s still preferable to his past decade of “I’M SAMUEL L. JACKSON, I’M IN THIS MOVIE, I’M BORED”) has an absurd plan. Unlike most modern spy movies, no part of Kingsman is wasted trying to pretend that the plan is actually Totally Realistic and Gritty.

The cast of Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of its strongest assets, with Colin Firth as spy-mentor Galahad being the big stand-out. You’ve probably already heard about his action sequence involving a hate-group church, some knives, and a lot of bullets (and a lamentable, but not damning, use of “Free Bird”). Taron Egerton, as Eggsy, isn’t an anti-charisma black hole like Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Godzilla or Ben Barnes in Seventh Son (my review here). By the end he still looks a little like a kid in daddy’s suit, but he gets off some good one-liners and has a more believable capacity for acrobatics then most of our aging action movie leads. But so much of the fun in Kingsman comes from secondary characters like Mark Strong’s Merlin, Michael Caine’s Arthur, Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle, and Mark Hamill’s Professor Arnold.

Much like the secondary cast, so much of the charm in Kingsman: The Secret Service is due to a fantastic attention to detail. Wardrobe, weapons, and mythology all capture a mood (they wear tweed tactical onesies!). Heads explode in colorful mushrooms of blood and steam. Gazelle’s sword-legs not only slice, but have stabbing stilettos. Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine does Apple-like events and calls up another tech buddy to get a new evil satellite.

Kingsman Politics

Kingsman isn’t going to inspire any academic treatises (I hope), but it’s nevertheless a smarter movie than a February action release has any business being. The bad guy’s motivation is not only compelling and believable, but his talking points will sound eerily familiar to those familiar with billionaires’ creepy obsessions with population control. Barack Obama makes a subversive cameo (at least a back-of-his-head double does) that I’m surprised hasn’t pissed off anyone yet. Basically, Kingsman is just generous, delivering every over-the-top spy thing you could imagine, anticipating your desires and never being too cowardly to do the crazy things you hope it will do. Sure, some of the political digs are more like Inglourious Basterds excuses to kill our collective hate-objects (Hate rich people? Watch Kingsman), but it still feels a hell of a lot gutsier than yet another hacker-terrorist with anarchy as both the means and the ends.

Most of all Kingsman: The Secret Service is just fun. With its solid opening weekend, it seems certain that we’ll see more from the Kingsman series. And while it may fancy itself a replacement for the conservative traits of the James Bond films, having a new entry in both series every few years sounds like a pretty ideal spy movie world.

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