It seems presumptuous in mid-February to declare a movie one of the best of 2015, but “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is so entertaining, so fresh, and so fearless that it seems destined to outshine the bulk of the unimaginative and timid films coming down the pike. A whip-smart script and great concept make it a riot to watch. Its insistence on skewering sacred cows of all stripes makes it one of the most provocative movies in years.
Director Matthew Vaughn mixes a wallop of James Bond with a bit of Austin Powers, stirs in a little “Hunger Games,” adds a flavor of “My Fair Lady,” and finishes it off with a dash of “28 Days Later.” The result may sound odd, but in the hands of the right cook, the flavors blend just right.
Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is a senior member of an organization called the Kingsman. Deftly trained and impeccably dressed, they form a modern Knights of the Round Table that out-Bonds even 007. Not only do they kill with bare hands, they do it without spilling a drop of the aged scotch in their crystal glass. When a mission goes wrong, the Kingsman look for a new member to replace a fallen comrade. Hart recommends “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a street tough who never backs down from a fight. While he fights for entry to the society, a bad guy plans to ruin the world.
The script does more than merely nod to all the stories and popular culture references, it toys with them like Kanye at a Grammy award. Celebrities gone missing? Of course there’s one no one misses. (Hint: She’s a beloved/hated pop star). Someone orders a martini? (The updated recipe goes way beyond shaking not stirring.) The film even gets a lick in on the Chinese Secret Service. (What are they called, again?)
It’s funny, genuinely, sustainingly funny from the first scene to the last. As if that’s not enough, the action scenes are exciting, especially a parachute jump with more than a bit of bravado and peril. The fight scenes hit the same tone—a wink and a nod plus some kick-ass mixed martial arts action. They manage to be both amusingly cartoonish and surprisingly gory.
Simultaneously Offensive and Entertaining
If this was all there was to the film, it would be a good movie that we would all enjoy. But yes, there is more. The film pushes buttons that aren’t usually pushed and isn’t afraid to hit some edgy territory. There’s plenty in this movie to offend Americans of all stripes as it entertains them.
Start with the villain, Samuel L. Jackson’s Internet mogul Valentine. He wears ridiculous baseball hats, has a lisp, and can’t stand the sight of blood. He adopts an affable hip-hop nerd persona, a take down of Silicon Valley’s rich pseudo-populism. At the same time, he’s ruthless and evil. He’s fantastic. You’ve never seen a villain like him.
Especially since his motivation is to save the world from global warming. That’s right. His dastardly deeds aren’t about making money or finding immortality. He kills to save the planet. Talk about a sacred cow.
Neither Right-Wing Nor Left-Wing
But don’t make the mistake of thinking this movie is some right-wing screed. An equally provocative scene is set in a church. It’s meant to be something along the lines of Westboro Baptist, all hate and rage, but no one gets off that easy in this movie. It’s somewhere between Westboro and the Presbyterian church down the street. When lots of church members die in particularly disturbing ways, the film creates a squirm-inducing feeling in the audience. The feeling of empathy for victims fights the feeling that maybe they had it coming. It is not exactly comfortable.
Perhaps the most provocative part, although a very brief and insignificant part of the movie, shows President Obama signing on to Valentine’s scheme. When all the bad guys get their comeuppance, Obama meets his demise in a way that, again, asks the audience to cheer while feeling guilty about it.
This level rebellion is not expected in a spoof-action movie. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a punk rock rebel of a movie. It refuses to follow any rules, to pay homage to any stuffy cobwebbed values. It slaps you in the face while making you laugh. Fun and completely entertaining, it also isn’t afraid. In our environment of careful and slavish correctness to groupthink, that feels like a refreshing breeze.
Rated R, the film has pervasive, medium gory violence. Swearing is almost constant, but in a British accent, so that makes it better. Sexual content is relatively rare, but there is one particularly dirty joke and a very sexy nude hindside in extreme close-up.