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Film Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Posted on 28th January 2015 |

Director Matthew Vaughn returns to our screens with the comic-book adaptation that stole him away from X-Men: Days of Future Past. We find out if it was worth the risk...

In 2012, when it was announced that Matthew Vaughn would be departing from his directorial duties on the sequel to his superhero hit, "X-Men: First Class", eyebrows were raised - this was the second time he’d walked away from an X-Men film in the last ten years. While with “The Last Stand”, he left late into pre-production, fearing he couldn’t make the film he wanted to, with “Days of Future Past”, it became clear immediately that he had left one of the biggest film franchises for another comic-book adaptation - the much lesser known “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar.

From the start of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, it’s easy to see why he took the gamble. Vaughn’s playful and frenetic style is much clearer to see than in his previous outing on X-Men and he wastes few scenes in showcasing it to wonderful effect. The action is fast-paced and extreme, the characters quick-witted, the premise is gloriously over the top and yet it’s all brought together in a way that never feels anything other than fun. Much of Vaughn’s back catalogue have been adaptations of books or comics and it’s clear that one of his biggest strengths is lifting characters from the page and making them larger than life and in doing so, fine tuning the source material to make it as cinematic as possible. For young filmmakers, he’s a fantastic example of how you can transform pre-existing stories (plays, short stories, comics) into excellent films by highlighting the most crucial elements and focusing on them.

In this film, Colin Firth takes the lead as “Gentleman Spy” Harry Hart - an agent in the super-secretive agency, the Kingsmen, along with Michael Caine, and regular Vaughn-collaborator Mark Strong. Forced to recruit a new member, we follow newcomer Taron Egerton’s Eggsy as he undergoes rigorous training, learning about the history and dangers of the spy world along with the audience. While Firth is the lead on paper, it is with Egerton that the audience goes on the real journey - accompanying him on his transformation from resourceful chav into bespoke suited, Oxford shoe wearing gent. With Egerton sharing the lead here, it’s clear that there is a bright future ahead for him.

In opposition to the Kingsmen then, is psychotic billionaire Richmond Valentine. Channelling a mix between Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Bond-villian Blofeld, a lisping Samuel L Jackson delivers one of his most memorable performances in recent years. Rather than a two-dimensional villain intent on world domination, Jackson’s blood-phobic Valentine does enough to convince the audience that he has genuine belief and passion in his goals.

Taking clear inspiration from 50 years’ worth of Bond movies, “Kingsman” regularly gives more than a passing nod to that series, without ever feeling like lampooning it. Definite parallels can be drawn between this and Austin Powers, but unlike the latter, “Kingsman” does enough to feel like its own film. It never feels bound by the need to play it safe - It’s ruthless, irreverent and features more than one scene that is sure to make headlines upon general release. Undoubtedly, this is one of the films greatest strengths - the audience is kept on its toes throughout as the film successfully creates the sense that anything could happen to anyone at anytime.

That sense of not playing it safe trickles down to the cast too. Colin Firth in particular shows us the Bond that never was and he seems gleefully aware that this is a role as far removed from Mr Darcy as he could ever hope to play. He plays both the perfect gentleman we’ve grown accustomed to seeing but combines it with a surprisingly convincing knack for action. In one particular scene, he shows off his fighting skills in a sequence so well choreographed, it is hard to imagine it being beaten this year.

Despite it’s many positives, the final act lets the film down slightly. The first 90 minutes are constantly challenging conventions and doing the unexpected that it was a little disappointing to arrive at a finale that was so routine. While still highly entertaining, the rest of film raised the bar so high that the last 30 minutes seemed too straightforward and ultimately underused some characters - in particular Sophie Cookson’s Roxy - another newcomer with a bright future!

TIPS FOR YOUNG FILMMAKERS

For young and aspiring filmmakers, there are plenty of techniques which Vaughn uses that could certainly be used in short films - in particular, his use of music. In a similar style as in “Kick Ass”, Vaughn accompanies action with music so upbeat and infectious that it’s hard not to nod along in pleasure, even while the most ludicrous ultra-violence unfolds on screen. One of the strongest repeated gags in the final act too relies on the music choice - specifically how it is mismatched with what the audience is expecting to hear. Vaughn’s playfulness even stretches to the credits, and the opening credit sequence offers a fantastic and novel example of how young filmmakers can bring one of the traditionally more static aspects of the films to life.

As mentioned above, much of Vaughn’s previous work has involved adapting comics (X-Men, Kick Ass) or novels (Stardust) and he has successfully turned them into films arguably even better than the source material. For filmmakers on the hunt for great stories to turn into cinema, looking for short stories or plays would be a fantastic place to start and by examining at how Vaughn, and his writing collaborator Jane Goldman adapt their films would be an invaluable resource!

 4/5 - Energetic, funny and consistently entertaining!

Kingsman: The Secret Service is in cinemas from Thursday 29th January, Certificate: 15

Review by Sean Boyle

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