For a film that is allegedly Matthew Vaughn’s “love letter to the James Bond franchise,” Kingsman: The Secret Service bears very little resemblance, at least tonally speaking. Kingsman agent Harry Hart, who mentors our rough-around-the-edges protagonist Eggsy (Taron Egerton), comes the closest, with Colin Firth’s classy, suave, and charming performance evoking the turns of Sir Roger Moore in the 70’s and 80’s. Otherwise, Kingsman has much more in common with Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. Sure, Samuel L. Jackson (who plays our megalomaniac villain) and Colin Firth enjoy a dinner of Big Mac sandwiches and french fries while discussing the James Bond films of old, but Kingsman is far too crude, classless, tasteless, and brutally violent to be a true love letter to 007.
This isn’t to say it doesn’t have its merits. A classically simple “save the world” plot allows for immense fun, a concept with which Vaughn is well acquainted. He orchestrates violent action sequences and set pieces with a sort of anarchical glee that would make someone like Quentin Tarantino proud (indeed, a mid-film blood bath in a church plays like Vaughn’s unique spin on Kill Bill Vol. 1‘s gory finale). The body count is absurdly high, and much of the action feels like John Wick with gadgets. It is frenetic, involving, inviting – it almost makes you feel guilty for having so much fun. The aforementioned church set piece comes to mind, in which Vaughn’s invigorating and gleeful carnage becomes disgusting and disturbing once the dust settles and the happy-go-lucky music fades. If Vaughn is attempting to comment on the overt violence and sex of spy films with this moment, he seems to have forgotten that Goldfinger doesn’t feature Agent 007 beheading a woman with an axe.
Nonetheless, the nods to the spy genre are occasionally appreciated. Given the dark-and-gritty direction the Bond films have taken in recent years following the success of the Jason Bourne franchise, Kingsman‘s light tone and focus on thrills is a breath of fresh air. Legions of armed, nameless goons patrol Jackson’s elaborate fortress of doom while his own personal henchwoman decapitates attackers with legs that double as samurai swords. It’s a shame that Kingsman is so all over the place (music switches from upbeat pop to foreboding multiple times during the tonally confused finale) that it occasionally becomes difficult to enjoy the multitude of awesomely zany moments that Vaughn has so expertly constructed.
Ultimately, while not Matthew Vaughn’s best film, Kingsman gets the job done. The action scenes are inventive, involving, and most of all – fun. The actors are all along for the ride (keep an eye out for Mark Strong, who revels in the chance to play a good guy), and I was too. Kingsman, and its humorously excessive British-ness, had me smiling at its old school production design and outrageous fight choreography. If you can disregard the fact that Austin Powers has more class, and that 007 himself would be ashamed, you’ll be smiling too.
★★★½ out of 5