Kingsman: The Secret Service

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This was another of the delayed and oddly positioned films from last year. Kingsman is a summer flick, full of action and visuals. It also happens to be a pretty good popcorn flick, so it is surviving better than the less-well-conceived, and equally delayed, Jupiter Ascending in this winter slot. There are great fights, a twisted villain, a sense of humor, and moments of utterly cold calculation. It also invents one of the cooler henchmen to ever grace a screen in Gazelle. And that woman leaves a trail of creative carnage throughout the film.

In other words, this homage to the old Bond movies stays incredibly entertaining and fun by breaking the mold and conventions of what we expect even while giving us exactly what we want and expect. Don’t over parse that, just go see it and it will make sense.

On the side of right, Firth (Magic in the Moonlight) turns in another great performance. Like so many actors in his age-range these days, he is taking on the mantle of action hero. The cool thing is that he does so believably. Apparently this is the result of months of painful training, so even better on him. Egerton, as his protege, serves his purpose well, but not brilliantly. He isn’t bad, but trying to shine on his own against Caine (Intersetllar) and Firth was beyond him at this stage of his career, though editing helped his cause.

On the other side, Jackson (Captain America) fashions one of the odder villains on the big screen. He’s consistent, so it works, but I could never really tell if I was offended or entertained by the choices. How close he stayed to the original comic, I’m not sure. Boutella, as Gazelle, creates a sexy, scary, wonderful bodyguard with a unique skill set and fighting style. She will remain a classic for years to come and a new bar to leap for any who follow.

There were also some nice surprises in the cast, including Hamill (Sushi Girl), Strong (The Imitation Game), and Davenport (Smash). Each brought color and strength to their roles.

Director/co-writer Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass, Stardust) is quickly rising as a force in genre film. His quirky vision is filled with love for the types of stories these are, and his sense of humor is filled with evil glee. The stories, while filled with action, are equally filled with characters and emotional connection. These aren’t award winning characters or performances, but they make it all believable enough to keep you in the story. And the stories themselves tend to be well constructed. Kingsman is well through through with nice bits and pieces to plaster over the credibility gaps and to knit the plot together in a tight weave.

As basic as this story is, there are enough twists and turns amid the riffs to keep you surprised. Vaughn, and his long time co-writer Goldman, recognize the cliches and play with and against them at will. They’re also not afraid, in service to their story, to make things uncomfortable for their audience. It narrows their appeal, but it gains the respect of those willing to saddle up for their adventures.

Go and have some fun with this. The climax is unlike any you’ve ever seen; funny, awful, and satisfying all at once. And the plot leading up to that moment is one of the most disturbing. I’ve heard that the undertones of politics in the film bug some viewers, but I didn’t see the story supporting any one side of the political spectrum… it spit on all of them (left and right).

The action is great, the ideas absurdly huge, and the humor black and gooey. I can’t wait to see it again.

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