"This ain’t that kinda movie, bruv."
After taking the superhero genre and blowing it out of the water with ‘Kick-Ass’ (2010), the team of director Matthew Vaughan, co-writer Jane Goldman and comic book legend Mark Millar have applied the same revisionist approach to the spy genre with ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. If you’ve followed Vaughan’s career, you’ll know that over his first four films he demonstrated career-making invention and veracity, which also included pulling the X-Men franchise out of the quagmire with ‘X-Men: First Class’ (2011) and making a rare fantasy film that didn’t suck with ‘Stardust’ (2007). I’m a big fan of Vaughan’s, and was pretty keen to check out what his fifth film had to offer, but even I wasn’t prepared for the bat-shit operatic insanity that awaited me.
Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin’ (Taron Egerton) is pulled out of his hopeless and directionless lower class life when he meets Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a refined upper class gentleman who also happens to be part of a major secret spy organisation called the Kingsman. Though they mostly take recruits from families of privilege, Harry sees something in Eggsy that others don’t. However, just as training is heating up and Eggsy is having to prove his mettle, a plot begins to develop that might put the world’s population in great danger, centred around self-made billionaire and tech genius Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).
Based on Millar’s comic (from an idea developed by Millar and Vaughan), ‘Kingsman’ takes the spy genre by the balls and beats it into something truly spectacular. Without missing a beat, taking a breath or stopping to think, it takes the piss out of the genre whilst celebrating everything absurd and wonderful about it, built around a narrative and characters that are also legitimately engaging. Rather that taking the lazy route of most spoofs and investing little time in plot or character, no stone has been left unturned. Both the heroes and the villains are equally well-drawn, with Vaughan and Goldman blessing them with razor-sharp dialogue and wit, and colliding with every spy cliché with so much enthusiasm that they render them new again.
All the bravura Vaughan and his team had demonstrated in ‘Kick-Ass’ is topped here, from the absurdly over-the-top violence to the breakneck pace to the surprisingly operatic scale. This is a ridiculous film, and many moments have you gasping in awe at its veracity, but by approaching them with total commitment, they become wonders to behold. In many ways, those that were unsure about the radical tone of ‘Kick-Ass’ might find ‘Kingsman’ more accessible, because it makes even more of an effort to commit to its conceit. This is a celebration of the genre traditions of the 70s and 80s, the days of Roger Moore’s James Bond, and a rejection of the gritty and serious traditions of the genre of late. It revels in the sexism and silliness while also managing to comment and dissect them. It might be a preposterous film, but what elevates ‘Kingsman’ into something truly special is that it’s also a cinematically intelligent one.
Vaughan also assembles a cast to die for. Newcomer Egerton has "star" written all over him, walking into the film and taking it as his own. His easy charm, intoxicating charisma and explosive energy make it so that he doesn’t so much carry the film as twirl it on the end of his finger. Colin Firth as Harry is insanely inspired casting, and trust me - you have never seen Colin Firth like this. Of course he has the elegance to pull it off, but it's his physical work in the film that leaves your jaw agape. One sequence in the film does for Firth what the hallway fight did for Chloe Moretz in ‘Kick-Ass’. It’s violence as ballet, and watching Firth execute it is a sight to behold. To be honest, each cast member deserves their own paragraph - Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill, Jack Davenport, Sofia Boutella and Sophie Cookson all do such outstanding work, and Samuel L. Jackson has not looked this enthusiastic and energised on screen in years.
‘Kingsman’ takes the spy genre by the balls and beats it into something truly spectacular.
I just cannot recommend ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ enough. I walked out of the cinema giddy and exhausted and making unintelligible noises of pure joy, and revisiting it on Blu-ray left me with exactly the same reaction. This is a virtuosic film, the kind that makes a genre feel like such a stupid concept while celebrating exactly what makes it so wonderful in the first place. Every second pulsates with energy and affection and at no point does it care whatsoever what you think of it. It will also make a magnificent double-bill with Paul Feig’s equally spectacular ‘Spy’. Seriously, if you haven’t seen this film, rectify this problem immediately, because ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is easily one of the best films of the year.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘Kingsman’ slides onto Blu-ray with immobile video and audio from Fox. The film has a slick modern look, and its digital photography makes for a breathtaking 1080p 2.39:1 transfer. Colour is particularly striking, especially thanks to its imaginative use in the design of the film, so the image leaps from the screen with tremendous clarity. The video is complemented by a thumping DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, always active and beautifully balanced. Any sound system will love playing with this one.
There are only a few extras included, but they’re of the highest quality. The centrepiece is ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service Revealed’, a collection of featurettes that combine into a full documentary (1:31:41). The making of the film is covered in great detail, from its development to casting to design and post-production. Everyone is featured, and all speak candidly about their experiences and intentions with the film, and its relationship with the genre itself. There’s a tremendous amount of intelligent observation and affection shown for the project, and there’s even a great section on the comic itself and how it relates to the film. The rest of the disc includes a collection of image galleries and a trailer, but the documentary covers everything you would want to know about the film.