Manners maketh the man,” Harry Hart (Colin Firth) calmly informs a group of ruffians as he latches the pub door closed. Few actors can embody that line quite like Firth—an actor who built his entire career around a classic attitude of a respectful demeanor and impeccable style—but what Firth has up his sleeve in Kingsman are outlandish violence and crude humor. At least he kept the suit.
Kingsman: The Secret Service concerns a group of impeccably dressed, well-mannered British agents who have been protecting the world from evil and villainy in secret since the 18th century. They take their code names from the Knights of the Round—although there doesn’t seem to be a round table in sight—with Hart as Galahad (the pure), Mark Strong as Merlin (the technical wizard and teacher), Michael Caine as Arthur (the leader), and Jack Davenport as Lancelot, who shows up for a two-minute cameo where he dispatches at least four before he is unceremoniously carved in two by Gazelle (Sofia Butella), the villain’s henchwoman, so named for her prosthetic legs that double as deadly swords.
The Kingsmen need to find a replacement for Lancelot while solving the mystery behind Lancelot’s death. Hart recommends Eggsy (Taron Egerton), whose father was a Kingsmen and saved Hart’s skin on a dozen occasions. Eggsy is the proverbial diamond-in-the-rough, a rough and tumble street kid who knows how to look after himself and keep his mouth shut. Hart hopes that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, and Eggsy is recruited to compete against the other applicants for Lancelot’s coveted spot.
While the recruits fight for a spot on the team, Hart, Merlin, and Arthur track down Lancelot’s killer, leading them to Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a self-aware super-villain who is having the time of his life embodying a Steve Jobs-like inventor that gives everyone on earth a SIM card that grants them free Wi-Fi and phone service, forever. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, the masses line up in droves when anyone with half a brain could see that sinister forces are clearly at work. Apparently, these writers don’t think much of the public at large.
Valentine’s grand plan is to use the SIM card to cause people to go wild with blood lust and kill each other. Why? Valentine wants to save the planet, and he figures thinning the herd might be a good way to do it. A few hand-selected will be saved—the one-percenters, if you will—and are set to inherit the aftermath. That sets up the third act where three must stop a hundred and save the world and, well, you know how this works.
Director Matthew Vaughn (who co-wrote the script with Jane Goodman) previous works include two Kick-Ass movies that, like Kingsman, have a very tedious relationship with violence. Vaughn seems most comfortable when the violence is cartoonish, over-the-top, and absurd, exemplified here when Hart dispatches a hundred or so fundamentalist church lunatics. Utilizing a good deal of special effects, Vaughn shoots Firth dispatching crazy church-goer after church-goer in a series of unbroken takes that are meant to be humorous at the least and giddy at best. It doesn’t work there, and it especially doesn’t work in the movie’s climax when the violence of millions, which is meant to be humorous, is juxtaposed with the violence of one, which is meant to be terrifying.
But then again, maybe we shouldn’t take a movie like Kingsman too seriously. Not every comic book adaptation is going to have the gravitas of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, nor should they, and Kingsman isn’t entirely without merit. Few actors have had this much fun playing the villain, and Jackson mines his role for all it is worth. And if you always wanted to see Firth take Bond’s cool demeanor, toss in Jason Bourne’s fighting style, and Running Man’s body count, then Kingsman is the movie for you. If not, well then, you might want to look someplace else.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Produced by: Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
Based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons
Starring: Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Jack Davenport, Sofia Boutella, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton
20th Century Fox, Rated R, Running time 129 minutes, Released February 13, 2015.