Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

After an ally is killed saving his life, spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) gives a medal to the deceased's baby son, and tells the mother to phone the number on the back should they ever need help. 19 years later, th baby has grown up to be Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who phones the number after being arrested. Hart gets him released from custody and offers him the chance to join an initiation process to become a Kingsman agent, like himself. Meanwhile, millionaire and philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes a target for the Kingsman agency as his motives and world famous ideas become questionable.

Matthew Vaughn is an innovative filmmaker, even if not in the normal sense of the word. Vaughn's back catalogue includes Stardust and Kick-Ass, both of which were game changers in their respective genres. So, Vaughn has moved away from fairy tales and superheroes, and hopped on board the spy film with, as per the norm, a pretty stellar cast. Kingsman is very stereotypically Vaughn, it has his signature style slapped all over it from the offset. Whilst this does limit it in some ways (we never hit the absurd heights of Stardust, nor the wonderful originality of Kick-Ass), it also lightens the load a bit. Matthew Vaughn films shouldn't require much thinking, he is a filmmaker whose primary focus is fun, but this is a far heavier plot that he's handled before. It isn't quite the masterpiece people might have originally hoped for, but it's down right fun and the most giddily enjoyable film since The Lego Movie, and that is quite a claim.

Vaughn comes into his stride during action sequences, as proven with Kick-Ass (which should be noted as one of my all time favourite films). Kingsman is no exception to this; whilst this film may struggle a bit to begin with and the whole initiation process feels more Divergent than Skyfall, when Vaughn eventually allows the lid to blow, it does so greater than ever before. Whilst there are particular highlights, including a church massacre and pretty much the entire final act, Vaughn does a terrific job of keeping the film flowing. The story may not be ground-breaking (then again, it wasn't meant to be), but we bounce along at a frantic pace once we break into the second act, and don't stop until the credits roll. It's far from his best work, but Kingsman is undeniably Vaughn's most insanely energetic film yet.

This is all boosted by the terrific work from his cast. With its eye popping visual effects and sublimely choreographed (and brilliantly violent) action sequences, this is not a film you would expect to boast Colin Firth as the frontman, yet he does a fantastic job. He gets on board with the film's style and delivers a number of great one liners. Relative newcomer Egerton is also solid in his role; whilst it may be difficult to sympathise with his character early on, he is developed nicely and grows with the film. The only real outlier is Jackson, who, whilst only really doing what his script tells him, ends up more uncomfortable than threatening. This could be Vaughn's fault, though. Jackson's performance itself is perfectly fine, but his character is uninteresting and awkward on screen, and I don't believe this was intended. He gets a few good moments, but for the most part, feels mostly like a wasted opportunity.

But what keeps Kingsman so fun is its energy. Coming from the same people who put Kick-Ass together, this is justifiably expected. Vaughn does a great job at living up to this, despite the opening act going on just a bit too long. It all comes together wonderfully for the film's finale though, which manages to be dramatic, emotional, funny and visually stunning all at once. Although, it would be easy to counter that with the knowledge that Kick-Ass blends all four of those traits throughout its entire feature, whereas Kingsman only really perfects the balance in the final half hour. As much as I want to separate Kick-Ass and Kingsman entirely, it's difficult when they're both so similar. But due to the former feeling original, the latter winds up feeling dated. It's still brilliant fun and more than worth the admission price, but Vaughn can't just repeat the same style in a different genre and expect consistently high results. Kingsman does a great job of keeping things entertaining, and it never loses sight of what it wants, but it doesn't quite feel as original as one would hope.

To Summarise: It may feel disappointingly similar to Vaughn's other, superior work, but Kingsman: The Secret Service is a violent, high-octane spy feature bolstered by solid performances and superb visual effects.

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