When I walked into the theater to see “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” I have to admit I had my doubts.
But with this movie, director Michael Vaughn manages to show a kind of versatility others fail to display. It helps that he has some solid material to work with in Mark Millar’s comic series “The Secret Service,” but the screenplay he developed with partner Jane Goldman is smart, witty and meta, knowing full well what the film is and never taking itself too seriously.
Whereas a film such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” felt tired and true, Vaughn manages to breathe new life into the spy genre.
The familiar tropes are all there, but they’re treated with the kind of fun that makes them entertaining, even when you know what’s coming. Though there is a definite sense of style, it’s a style that oozes from the film rather than smacking you in the face and wanting you to accept it for how cool it is.
One of the pleasant surprises the film offers is Colin Firth as the lead Harry Hart. The soon-to-be 55-year-old Firth takes his first foray into the action genre, and it is a memorable one. It’s one thing to cast an older actor such as Firth to play a gentleman, but to sell him as an action star is another.
Lesser films in this genre would cheapen the action with quick edits, but the hyper-frantic style of “Kingsman,” where it’s all energy on screen in long takes, not only shows off the fluid and beautifully choreographed action, but the actors themselves.
There is a solid story to be told with his connection to the young man named Eggsy, played by actor Taron Egerton. There is a personal backstory regarding Eggsy’s now deceased father that draws the two together. The biggest flaw, though still minimal, is the distance in Eggsy and Hart’s relationship.
While Egerton gives a solid performance as Eggsy, there’s a cold atmosphere between the characters that makes it hard to fully believe Hart’s debt to Eggsy’s father.
Firth plays Hart too cool in the scenes meant to display his care for Eggsy. While it has the effect of portraying Hart as a calm and collected agent, it also works against his character in the moments when he needs to show more humanity.
The actor who shines the most in this film and consistently steals the show is Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the film’s main villain, Valentine.
Jackson has had his fair share of over-theatrical roles to date, especially in many of his more recent low-budget excursions, but I haven’t had this much fun watching Jackson in a while.
Valentine is the perfect comic book villain for Jackson to play, and he chews up the scenery every single time. From his goofy outfits, topped off with hysterical headgear and his lisp, his character screams cartoon, which is what he aims for. In one of the film’s smarter bits where he discusses spy films with Firth’s character, everything he does is calculated and intentional.
As stated midway through the film, a spy movie is only as good as its villain, and Jackson is up to the task of fulfilling that role. Coupled with his lovely assistant and deadly bodyguard Gazelle, played by Sophia Boutella, the two make for one of the more entertaining antagonistic duos in recent memory.
Beyond the actors’ performances, the villains must be well thought out and interesting in their own right. With Valentine, we get to learn how he became the man he is, and, while nothing new, the eccentricity of his persona makes him memorable.
The fascination with Gazelle, on the other hand, doesn’t so much have to do with her character, but in her character’s design. I can’t remember the last time we had an amputated villain that was as badass as Gazelle, and her amputation works well with her character’s name.
All in all, “Kingsman” easily represents 2015’s best new film. Five feature films into his career, Vaughn continues to show that he and comic book films are a perfect match, knowing full well how to capture the right tone while keeping things fresh and new.
There’s a vibrancy and eccentricity in its antagonist, played by Jackson, which is sorely missed from the genre that alone makes “Kingsman” a must-watch. But the solid cast, energetic action and humor elevate “Kingsman” to new levels that should be enjoyed by all.
“Kingsman: the Secret Service” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content and can be seen at Conway’s Cinemark Theater.