By Cory Elvenstar
April 27, 2015
Watching Kingsmen: The Secret Service was the most cinematic exhilaration I have had in years. I do not say this lightly, as I have seen some great films, but the sheer frenetic energy and enthusiasm that culminates in this film is nothing short of impressive. Kingsmen is directed by Matthew Vaughn, whose previous works include X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, titles that have been both commercial and critical successes. Vaughn also produced the Guy Ritchie vehicles, Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and there is a definite British style that Vaughn borrows from these earlier works. Like Ritchie, the greats Tarantino and Kubrick, Vaughn has a directorial style uniquely his own, and I am excited to see the niche that he carves for himself in Hollywood.
With Kingsmen, Vaughn has made an addition to the ever-growing genre of the self-aware film. In today’s cinematic age, moviegoers have seen and experienced everything under the sun, and are oftentimes unimpressed or uninspired by modern day films because there is no new content, there are mostly just recycled formulas meant to sell tickets. To combat this viewer apathy, some filmmakers have taken to implementing a genre that plays on the conventions of the past, but at the same time, points out the clichéd nature of these plot techniques. This genre is the self-aware film; which is basically a genre of films that recognizes that they are films. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? It certainly can be but unfortunately this genre can be a double edged sword at times. For example, it can be used to revitalize a tired genre such campy horror movies like Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods or Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz for action. It can be used as spoof or satire, such as in 21 Jump Street or The Austin Powers series. On the other hand, this genre can end up seeming tired and clichéd in its own right, such as the _____ Movie series (Epic Movie, Date Movie, Superhero Movie etc.) which started out promising enough with Scary Movie, but has fizzled more and more with each new installment and now just seems stale and overplayed. For this genre to work, the film must be able to stand on its own right, a feat Kingsmen definitely accomplishes.
Kingsmen focuses on the troubled youth Eggsy, played with effortless charisma by newcomer, Taron Edgerton. He is wayward, directionless, and he seems to be one a one-way train to riff raff alley after taking a slight detour down ne’erdowell road. It is at his lowest point when he is introduced to the secret agency that his father was a member of and his life is changed forever! This sounds like a clichéd premise, and it is in a lot of ways; however, Kingsmen creates originality with every cinematic move it makes. There are so many red-herrings to throw the audience off track that this film never ceases to entertain. This film is delightfully British. All of the secret service agents’ names come from the Knights of the Round Table and they pride themselves on being perfect English gentlemen (which makes the scenes where these classy Brits wail on lesser beings all the better). The plot deals mainly with the conflict between Valentine, an eccentric billionaire bent on world domination, and the Kingsmen, the spy agency so classy they make M:I6 look like a bunch of Neanderthals. Eggsy becomes our eyes and ears as we are transported into this world of espionage and intrigue. As he becomes acclimated with the Kingsmen’s ways, we as the audience are as well, and it is a wild ride from start to finish. The cast is immensely talented, ranging from Colin Firth’s calm demeanor; to Michael Caine’s sage wisdom; to Samuel L. Jackson’s wild and over-the-top turn as lisp-having, baseball cap sporting villain, Valentine. These actors elevate this film from potentially forgettable to a modern day classic. Jackson especially shines as the antagonist who is ironically averse to violence; so much so in fact that any time he commits any acts of violence, either directly or indirectly, he has to turn his head or be overcome with nausea. It is a refreshing change of pace from Jackson’s cool-as-a-cucumber persona. Valentine functions as a hilarious foil to the all the well-spoken British characters, and with his sword-legged assistant, he keeps the plot of the film moving along at a breakneck pace.
The action scenes in Kingsmen are shot with an eccentric mix of point-of-view and whirling camera angles that exacerbate the hyper-violent scenes taking place. Without a doubt, Vaughn knows how to shoot action. Unlike some directors who shoot action using confusing, jumbled close-ups, Vaughn widens the lens, allowing the scenes to actually be processed and enjoyed by the audience. The action is bloody and exaggerated and reminiscent of Vaughn’s earlier work Kick Ass; and like in that film, his scenes are scored with a kick-ass soundtrack. Watching Colin Firth’s character Galahad fight his way through the racist South to the sounds of the guitar solo in ‘Free Bird’ is nothing short of cinematic and musical genius. The one critique I might make of this film is that the actions scenes that Eggsy takes the lead in once he is fully acclimated into the secret agency seem a little stale. They are nowhere near as entertaining or creative as the scenes that the other Kingsmen members, namely Colin Firth, engage in throughout the first half of the film. Because of this, the climax seems somewhat anti-climactic and the film definitely loses some steam that it had built up. Despite this fault, Kingsmen is still a massively entertaining film.
Kingsmen is a throwback to all the great spy films of the 60’s and the 70’s, certainly nodding to James Bond. Although this film takes cues from 007, it turns every spy movie trope on its head, creating a self-aware film that is entirely original and satisfying. Indeed, Vaughn has again kicked ass.
4 out of 5