Thursday, February 19, 2015

'Kingsman: The Secret Service' review

Matthew Vaughn has made a name for himself thanks to a wide variety of films like Kick-Ass, Stardust and Layer Cake. He also helped to rejuvenate the X-Men franchise at Fox with First Class, and did work on Days of Future Past as well. In my opinion, Vaughn's high energy filmmaking has put him on a level with Edgar Wright, Tarantino and Hollywood's other great comedic action directors. Vaughn's latest film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, was one of my most anticipated films of the year. A hyper-violent, Tarantino-esque spoof of the classic Bond flicks, Kingsman seemed awesome from the minute I heard about it. And it definitely delivers. Kingsman is a brash, hysterical, and viciously entertaining movie that sets up a very promising franchise.

Kingsman tells the story of Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), an irresponsible, troubled teen in London. His father was a respected agent for the Kingsman, a modern spy agency that operates completely outside of the government's jurisdiction. After the death of one of the Kingsman agents, each of the surviving agents is tasked with picking a candidate for the open slot. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), known as Galahad to the Kingsman, tracks down Eggsy and gives him the opportunity to become a spy.

Eggsy and several other students compete in a series of ridiculously dangerous trials that test them to their limits. But when the safety of mankind is threatened by the tech billionaire maniac Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), the Kingsmen are thrust into action. Valentine's plan involves population control, climate change and a whole bunch of other far-fetched things. Eggsy, Galahad and Merlin (Mark Strong) are tasked with saving the world and preventing the genocidal nut from completing his master plan.

Kingsman is not going to be a film for everyone. I think that's a pretty safe statement to make. It's bold, absurdly violent, gleefully over-the-top, and simply insane. It's made for people who've always wanted to see Quentin Tarantino put his stamp on James Bond. The film's premiere set piece is a five minute orgy of violence set in a hate-mongering church, while "Free Bird" blasts in the background. Some may find this unappealing. And some will absolutely adore it. I definitely fell in the latter camp. While it did take some time for me to fully buy into Kingsman, the film comes together perfectly and becomes a joyous ride.

In recent years, blockbusters and spy films have gotten much more serious. Bond has featured more action recently and has focused less on the debonair aspects of the character. Granted, Casino Royale and Skyfall are brilliant films, but so much self-seriousness can become a bit tiresome after a while. Bourne, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man- pretty much all of the modern action heroes have some sort of intense moral dilemma with massively weighty stakes. Kingsman's goal is to skewer these flicks and flip them on their heads. It depicts graphic carnage, but takes a considerably lighter approach to things, allowing for the audience to have a lot of fun with the characters.

Part of the charm comes from seeing esteemed British actors like Colin Firth beat up on some bad guys. Firth gives a very good performance in this film, and he absolutely crushes the fight scenes. According to some, Firth trained for six months to do his own stunts for the Church massacre. That absolutely pays off in what is definitely one of the most memorable action scenes in recent years.

Samuel L. Jackson is also incredibly delightful as Richmond Valentine, the McDonald's loving, philanthropic, tech guru billionaire with a speech impediment. Jackson adds so much to what could have been a fairly rote villain. The speech alteration could have been a risky move, but Jackson totally crushes it and manages to make Valentine a memorable villain. Mark Strong delivers a very charming and funny performance as well, making Merlin a solid sidekick for Harry and Eggsy.

Despite those three great performances, the star of the show is certainly newcomer Taron Egerton. In this film, Egerton gets to show great range and I was very impressed by what he was able to do. Eggsy becomes a suave and sophisticated spy, but at the beginning of the film, he's a rude and profane street kid from South London. Egerton manages to channel both sides of Eggsy quite well. He's already been rumored for a few other projects and I can definitely see Egerton being a star in Hollywood.

Vaughn worked on the screenplay with Jane Goldman, who is one of the most promising screenwriters around today. She has done great work on the X-Men franchise and I believe that she'll do more great work in the future. Vaughn and Goldman's screenplay is tight, witty, very profane and simply well done. The banter between the characters is entertaining and the film has a good flow to it. The early stages are a bit too emotional and serious for a film like this, but as the film progresses, Kingsman becomes more and more fun by the minute.

With this film, Vaughn also proves that he's a clever director capable of doing unique shots and absolutely bonkers action. The church scene will certainly be off-putting to some. I know a lot of critics have trashed it for its tastelessness and the fact that it was an unnecessarily violent scene. And I won't deny either of those things. The scene is violent, graphic, over-the-top and absurd. But it's an incredibly well shot, choreographed and acted scene, and it is brimming with energy. I was laughing very hard throughout the entire setpiece and I thought it was a brilliant piece of directing by Vaughn. Throughout the rest of the film, Vaughn also manages to keep the action fresh and the film pops with a pizzazz that makes it very fun to watch.

Vaughn also manages to keep the film fresh and unpredictable. Never once did I feel like I knew where this film was headed. New twists and turns entered the picture constantly and I was very fond of that. In modern superhero movies, we pretty much know the general archetype and I always know exactly where the film is going. With Kingsman, I didn't have any clue and that was refreshing.

Kingsman was a film that seemed perfectly suited to me and it delivered on every front. This is an energetic, razor-sharp film and it is a total blast throughout. Matthew Vaughn did such a great job of creating a unique universe filled with gentlemen spies, bloody violence, and amazing gadgets. I can't wait to watch this film again and again, and thanks to the terrific box office, it's safe to say that we might be seeing a Kingsman franchise. This is one of the best films of 2015 so far, and one of the more genuinely fun action films that I've seen in recent years.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A                                                 (9/10)

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