Writer Jane Goldman and writer/director Matthew Vaughn bring another one of Mark Millar’s comics to the cinema screen in all its colourful carnage. Imagine a Roger Moore James Bond with the potty mouth of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the action from The Raid. Guised as bespoke tailors and codenamed as Knights of the Round Table an independent organisation of spies known as the Kingsman, have been covertly tipping the scales for good against international evil doers. When one Kingsman dies, a recruitment process begins to replace them. Colin Firth’s Harry Hart aka Galahad nominates the unlikely Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin (Taron Egerton), the son of one of his former fallen comrades. When an international conspiracy leads to international technology billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), the Kingsman are the only ones who stand in the way of his dastardly plans.
Colin Firth is a damned revelation. He’s an embodiment of that upper class gentleman, and his natural sophistication and cool is amplified by his ability to absolutely kick ass. He’s thrown into a cyclone of violence and espionage, dispatching opponents with the grace of a fencer and the thud of a steel mace. Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine is a lisping, maniacal Steve Jobs-esque genius, who has the wallet but not the stomach for dishing out violence. It’s ‘scenery chewing,’ larger than life performance and he's having a glorious time. The highlight of the film for this reviewer is the wonderfully ‘meta’ exchange between Harry and Valentine about their appreciation of Bond. Valentine says that he's a Roger Moore Bond fan, to which Harry replies that those films are only as good as their villains. The electricity being exchanged between that most unlikely pair of actors, both playing so against the casting mould that you've become accustomed to seeing them in, had me nearly doing backflips in my seat.
Newcomer Taron Egerton’s Eggsy is an equal and opposite of Harry Hart. Just because he’s got that rough, thuggish exterior doesn’t mean he cannot carry himself with respect and class. He’s brash, funny and relatable despite the fact he’s in these outrageous situations. It could have been the intention of the filmmakers to cast Egerton as the young looking Daniel Craig Bond type as the successor to Firth’s riff on Roger Moore Bond, or just a happy accident, but in any event he looks tough and oozes bad boy charm. When I saw the film on at least one occasion my wife leant over to whisper, “who is THAT?!”
We've seen villains like Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle (thank you Robert Rodriguez) but they were less about function or menace and more about spectacle. Boutella’s Gazelle, the henchwoman with swords for legs, flicks out horrendous gaping wounds like a multi-directional helicopter rotor. This is a bombshell personal assistant that you do NOT want to mess with. Mark Strong’s Merlin, the Q of the Kingsman universe, is a great character because you’ve seen him be out in the field, on active duty but knows that he’s not necessary up to the task. It makes those successful agents an even rarer breed in comparison. It’s such a Gary Oldman manoeuvre from villain to sweetheart. Finally, Sophie Cookson’s Roxy, Eggsy’s primary competitor and confidant in training, cuts beneath the swagger and ‘B.S’ of the other candidates and provides a welcome female counterpoint to the sausage fest.
Vaughn is a filmmaker with style for days. The camera is fluid and the intention to the movement is to make you feel what the characters are feeling. In a bar scene where Harry (Firth) teaches some of the thugs that antagonise Eggsy (Edgerton) some manners, the intimate safe space of the bar stops feeling warm and cosy, and starts feeling like a room designed for hazards and torture. The bar bench, every empty pint, wooden stools; everything within Harry's reach are tools for torture. In the showcase action centrepiece of Kingsman Harry is under assault in a church full of crazies. The camera feels like it’s on a bullwhip; swirling and around the dizzying frenzy until you're CRACK BANG right into a killing strike. The effects of The Raid(s) are starting to ripple through modern action films and we're luckier audience members for it.
Jane Goldman is an excellent writer and she tempers the machismo of the subjects she and Vaughn tackle with great badass female characters with meaty roles. If there was any criticism of Kingsman it’s in the pacing of the story. In the wake of the film’s resounding box office success, and the clear intention to launch a franchise, the sometime exorbitant time spent in the recruitment training or visitation back to Eggsy’s life before the Kingsman are probably appropriately paced. However, when you’re thinking that this is a one and done singular entity, some moments felt like they were stalling.
One thing that has to be addressed in any discussion of the Kingsman is this absolutely preposterous argument that some viewers were “offended” by a joke towards the end of the film regarding anal sex. Keeping the spoilers to the minor, Eggsy (Egerton) comes upon Hanna Alström’s Princess Tilde who has been imprisoned in Valentine’s fortress. In a fun little exchange where she says that if he save’s the world, she’ll shag his brains out (not quite in those words), he takes the opportunity to float the possibility of anal. With glee, she says yes and you come to assume that it’s a potential weapon in her sex arsenal. Sufficed to say when the good guys win (never a spoiler) he comes to claim his prize and in the briefest window you see Alström’s bare bottom in POV, via Eggsy’s Google-glass-esque spy glasses before director Matthew Vaughn cuts for modesty. If the chaotic, graphic and blood-lust frenzy of bodies being sliced in twain, impaling, exploding heads, more impaling (which happens in a church), stabbings, shot pets and a mother breaking down the door to her bathroom with the intent to kill a toddler haven’t made you squeamish, BUT an anal sex joke that exaggerates on the same kind of joke we’ve seen in ten James Bond films, then you are officially a dummy. The dummy brigade will be dispatch an owl to your house momentarily.
Kingsman has style, fun and debonair that only the very best of the early Bond films touched. Let's hope that this bombastic franchise is able to keep Vaughn and Goldman's attention to revisit and expand.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn based on the graphic novel by
Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons
Colin Firth ... Harry Hart / Galahad
Mark Strong ... Merlin
Jonno Davies ... Lee
Jack Davenport .. Lancelot
Alex Nikolov ... Little Eggsy
Samantha Womack ... Michelle Unwin
Mark Hamill .. Professor Arnold
Sofia Boutella ... Gazelle
Samuel L. Jackson .. Valentine
Michael Caine ... Arthur
Taron Egerton .. Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin
Geoff Bell .. Dean
Jordan Long .. Poodle
Theo Barklem-Biggs .. Ryan
Tobi Bakare .. Jamal
Morgan Watkins .. Rottweiler
Edward Holcroft ..Charlie
Sophie Cookson .. Roxy
Nicholas Banks ... Digby
Jack Cutmore-Scott ... Rufus
Nicholas Agnew ... Nathaniel
Rowan Polonski ... Piers
Tom Prior .. Hugo
Fiona Hampton ... Amelia
Bjørn Floberg ... Scandinavian Prime Minister
Hanna Alström ... Princess Tilde
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.