Daniel Craig’s James Bond a little too brooding for your tastes? Matthew Vaughn’s got you covered – his Kingsman: The Secret Service is the most entertaining and riotous spy flick in years, as well as one that’s unquestionably made for adults. Unrepentantly ribald, delectably blood-soaked and filled with more genre in-jokes than you can shake a martini at (with gin, of course, stirred for ten seconds while staring at an unopened bottle of vermouth), Kingsman is a blast of gleeful filmmaking exuberance from first frame to last, clever enough to up-end spy movie conventions while simultaneously serving as a high-flying, rip-roaring adventure that stands among the genre’s best.
On paper, the movie shouldn’t work at all. Its humor is thoroughly low-brow, its premise a bit of a stretch and its characters incredibly over-the-top – but Vaughn, maestro of mayhem that he is, pulls it off with an irreverent mix of affection for the classics and relish for modern sensibilities. His style is energetic but meticulous, high-octane but precise, a mash-up of Tarantino’s snappy visual wit and Guy Ritchie’s explosive hyperactivity. And it works beautifully for the spy genre, fully imparting both the erotic elegance of its high-tech gadgetry (I’ll never be content in a Brooks Brothers fitting room again) and the bone-crunching ferocity of its characters’ many fight sequences.
At the heart of what makes Kingman work is star Colin Firth, who’s absolutely astounding as the classy yet capable secret agent Harry Hart, codenamed Galahad. Firth, who previously played a British gent to the tune of an Oscar win in 2010’s The King’s Speech, is a fireball of fists and fury who also rocks a suit and tie like nobody’s business – it’s a career-redefining performance, unleashing the badass within a classy British thesp with a savagery that needs to be seen to be believed.
Also terrific is the young Taron Egerton, who bites into the tricky role of rough-and-tumble Londoner Eggsy with gusto. A lesser actor would have turned Eggsy into a caricature, but Egerton understands the complexity of his disadvantaged youth, who’s brilliant and capable but bound to a less meaningful existence by his admirable desire to care for his mother and baby sister as well as his lack of employment options.
Once Eggsy gets picked up and introduced into Kingsman by Harry, he takes to the training like a fish to water, giving the posh Oxford guys a run for their money and wittily cutting through the pretensions of a great many spy movies in the process. But it’s on the film’s main mission – to take down megalomaniacal Steve Jobs parody Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) – that both Eggsy and Kingsman come into their own. One-liners fly with abandon, the body count accumulates (especially during a brutal, ballsy church massacre sequence, which Vaughn fully intends to disturb us, even as it stimulates our culture’s unpleasant desire for inventive on-screen violence) and Kingsman keeps things tight, never forgetting that its purpose, first and foremost, is to be a rollicking good time. In that sense, the film is a resounding success. Vaughn is the kind of director everyone wants to see run amok for a few hours – Kingsman makes it clear that the guy has a license… to thrill.
The 1080p transfer is a strong, if not particularly dazzling presentation for Kingsman on Blu-Ray, capturing terrific amounts of detail and enlisting a solid color palette without particularly stylizing much of the color. The result is a resolutely sturdy, natural-looking picture that is still able to capture the sheen of the film’s stylish prop wardrobe while capturing the complexity of Vaughn’s fast-moving fight sequences. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is also pretty great, especially in terms of its booming soundtrack (you’ll rock out during the opening song – it’s inescapable) and potent sound-effects mix. The only weakness is in the balancing of bigger sounds – from explosions to gun battles – and the dialogue, so it’s occasionally difficult to make out particular lines.
In terms of special features, Kingsman includes:
- Kingsman: The Secret Service Revealed
- Panel to Screen: The Education of a 21st Century Super-Spy
- Heroes and Rogues
- Style All His Own
- Tools of the Trade
- Breathtakingly Brutal
- Culture Clash: The Comic Book Origins of The Secret Service
- Behind the Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
The featurettes, clocking in at over 90 minutes, are the obvious strength here, highlighting Kingsman‘s unique style, intentions, characters and path from Mark Millar’s comic to the big screen. A ton of work went into creating the larger universe in which the film took place, and one of the major things that becomes clear after watching the featurettes is that everyone involved has plans to explore that universe much further than in just this one film. Other extras include the requisite trailer and galleries.
All in all, Kingsman: The Secret Service comes highly recommended. The Blu-Ray presentation isn’t the most impressive I’ve seen by a long shot, but the strengths of the movie are more than enough to cancel that out. As a cheeky send-up of the spy genre and a reverent tribute to the same, the movie is a total pleasure rush, stuffed with imaginative sequences and uproarious lines, all executed by an exceptionally committed cast. And as overseen by Vaughn, the pic fires on all cylinders as a devilishly entertaining (and delectably blood-soaked) piece of inspired cinematic madness. Especially with the terrific repartee between Egerton’s thuggish Eggsy and Firth’s refined Harry Hart, it offers more gut-busting lines than any straight comedy to hit screens so far this year, and any awards buzz for Firth’s performance is far from a joke. He’s the resilient glue that keeps the wheels from coming off Vaughn’s sometimes insane, always inventive contraption.
Long live the Kingsmen!
The film is brash, ballsy and often bad-mannered, but Vaughn conducts the proceedings with such elegance and sophistication that it all goes down smoother than an ice-cold martini (with gin, stirred for 10 seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth, of course).