Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Colin Firth, kicking ass. What more do you need?

Don’t worry: director Matthew Vaughn’s take on the Mark Millar comic has plenty to offer beyond that visual. If pressed to describe Kingsman: The Secret Service in a single sentence, I’d go with “a hyperactive take on James Bond,” and while it’s true, it doesn’t even remotely capture everything about this film. For a mainstream film, this is a surprisingly brutal, aggressive project. It’s also one of the most refreshing takes on both spy films and action films in general that I’ve seen in a while.

Firth stars as Harry Hart, an old-school super spy whose very proper Britishness (and audience familiarity with him in certain kinds of roles) hides the fact that he can more than hold his own in any situation. When one of his fellow Kingsmen is killed in the line of duty, Hart decides to mentor the son of a previous protégé who died saving Hart’s life, to potentially become the next member of Kingsman. That young man, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), has bounced around in life due in large part to an inability to commit.

Of course, a spy film is only as good as its villain, and Kingsman has a doozy with Gary Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine is a tech billionaire with a lisp and a strong distaste for blood, as well as a henchman (Sofia Boutella) whose razor-blade legs are quintessential Bond material. Valentine has a master plan, and while I won’t spoil it here, the magnitude of how it’s portrayed is one of the film’s biggest strengths. The plan itself? Maybe not quite as well thought out as Valentine and his supporters believe. But with Jackson as Valentine, he’s able to sell it nonetheless.

The film is being promoted as being from “the director of X-Men: First Class,” and while I get that Fox would prefer to focus on one of their films, Kingsman has more in common with Matthew Vaughn’s previous film, Kick-Ass (also an adaptation of a Mark Millar property). While the film stops short of a ton of blood, there’s more than enough violence and language to earn the film’s R rating. Beyond that, though, the film is frequently absurd and even obscene. It works, though. It works because Vaughn is clearly dedicated to his vision, and he’s aided by a tremendous cast that also includes Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill and Sophie Cookson.

I have to give credit to newcomer Taron Egerton, though. Even though Firth is top-billed, Egerton is the true lead of the film, and he’s a natural. He’s got the right amount of charisma and cockiness to pull off this role, and in a film industry teeming with talent that starts to blend together rather quickly, that balance makes Egerton stand out. Just based on this film, I’d be surprised if we don’t see more of Egerton in the next few years.

Whether this is a brilliant one-off film or the start of a whole new franchise…well, it’s too soon to say. But regardless of the outcome, Vaughn’s created the first must-see film of 2015. And if you need an excuse to watch this instead of the other film being released this Valentine’s Day weekend, remember this: the villain’s name is Valentine. Boom. Done.

Kingsman: The Secret Service • Rating: R (for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content) • Runtime: 129 minutes • Genre: Action • Cast: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Taron Egerton, Michael Caine, Mark Strong • Director: Matthew Vaughn • Writers: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
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