Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is a member of the Kingsman, an urbane and virtuous spy outfit operating out of a Savile Row tailors. After one their number dies they set about looking for a replacement, and Hart selects ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton), a smart-mouthed and talented yoof from the wrong side of the tracks. While Eggsy is put through his espionage paces, lisping nutcase Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) sets into motion plans to take over the world with mobile phone SIM cards and it’s up to the Kingsmen to stop him.
Matthew Vaughn seems to be cinematic Marmite, dividing the film-going public into two camps. Some find his brand of sharp, stylised, often ultra-violent work to be fun, witty and just the right side of irreverent, while the others accuse him of being over-indulgent, succumbing to laddish fantasy and lacking heart or finesse.
Well, luckily for me I fall squarely into the former category. I say luckily for me because Kingsman is the most Matthew Vaughn film Matthew Vaughn has ever made. It’s an audacious and wildly entertaining rollercoaster ride, distinctly and unashamedly British and featuring some of the loopiest visuals ever committed to such a high profile blockbuster.
Particular praise must be given to the adrenaline-fuelled action beats that litter the film. Favouring long takes and a kinetic camera rather than the nauseating and choppy edits that seem to be the norm in Hollywood these days, Kingsman features some of the most inventive action I’ve seen in a long time.
Sheer pleasure is the definite modus operandi here, injecting barrels of fun into a concept that could so easily have just been a run of the mill Hollywood bunkum. Indeed, Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman (who also worked on Kick Ass and Stardust) clearly love the spy genre and litter the movie with tons of neat references. From the subtle (the Kingsmen all sporting dapper Harry Palmer specs), to the not so subtle (Firth and Jackson engaging in a meta conversation about their favourite Bond films), it’s a treasure trove of spy tropes.
Much of this entertainment value is down to a roster of excellent performances, with the entire cast embracing the lunacy with wild abandon. Firth is the big winner here, clearly having the time of his life – relishing the opportunity to occupy a Bond-like role he sadly missed out on in younger days. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious, bizarrely channelling Will.i.Am via Chris Eubank to great effect. Elsewhere, top support comes from the always wonderful Mark Strong as the Kingsman’s equivalent of Q, and Sophie Cookson as Roxy, Eggsy’s primary rival for the spy role and a refreshingly well-rounded female character in an otherwise male dominated genre.
Of course the film isn’t perfect. The first half could be accused of being formulaic, grinding gears and positioning characters before the main plot kicks in, but even at its lowest ebb it never once dips into boring territory. Elsewhere, the otherwise sharp script comes undone with some muddled class system satire that could have benefited from a bit of a polish. And of course, as ever with all Vaughn’s films, there are the usual excesses and a definite lack of subtlety. But these are minor gripes and aren’t sufficient to sully what is an otherwise sharp and funny film.
Kingsman is a rollicking thrill ride – light-hearted, fast paced and incredibly funny. Although much of the adult humour and violence won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, for fans of this kind of thing you’d be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining and uncompromisingly idiosyncratic film this year.