Kingsman: The Secret Service–Movie Review

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4 Stars
Kingsman poster
Kingsman: The Secret Service (IMDB) is a light-hearted action thriller based loosely on a British comic book. So it’s understandable that it is loaded with cartoon violence. (In an early scene a character is cut in half, lengthwise, with no blood visible.) But the movie is what it is, makes no apologies, and does what it does extremely well. I get the impression that the people involved had a lot of fun making it, and I had fun watching it.

Kingsman is packed with references to the classic James Bond movies. Once again we have a world in which debonaire gentleman spies armed only with wit, agility and some clever gadgets seek to defeat colorful supervillains bent on world domination (or worse.)

In a movie like this it’s important to have a good villain, and Samuel L. Jackson makes a great one. He plays Richmond Valentine, a tech billionaire who plans to end the threat of global warming by killing off 99.999% of humanity, preserving only a small group of elite survivors. His trusted assistant “Gazelle” (Sophie Cookson) is probably the most memorable evil henchman since Oddjob.

Valentine is a disturbingly plausible villain. His argument that it is better to kill off most of humanity than to risk a likely catastrophe that would destroy all of humanity sounds like arguments that you actually hear in certain quarters. It seems all too plausible that he could enlist most of the world’s movers and shakers in his plot (promising of course that they will be included among the elite survivors.)

Opposing him is “Kingsman,” an organization of superspys. This is not a conventional spy agency that works for a government. It’s actually a group of vigilantes, founded after World War I by idealistic aristocrats who were disillusioned with the incapacity or unwillingness of governments to protect the world from evil.

So these guys risk their lives to protect humanity, which seems admirable, but they aren’t entirely likable. In fact they are a bunch of horrible snobs.

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is one of the more likeable members. He is definitely a snob–his catchphrase “oxfords, not brogues” epitomizes the sort of shibboleth that aristocrats use to distinguish themselves from such lowly people as self-made millionaires. However for Hart being a “gentleman” is not a matter of birth but a matter of style, and thus something one can choose.

Partly because of this he decides to recruit an aimless young working-class stiff named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton.) Much of the movie is devoted to Eggsy’s experiences in Kingman’s terrifying training program, which exposes him to both the best and worst aspects of the organization.

It’s an open question whether Eggsy in the end triumphs over the organization or is corrupted by it. But he does help save the world, which ought to count for something.

None of this can be taken too seriously. It’s basically comic book stuff, but it’s well-executed and thought-provoking comic book stuff, and reminds me of 2009’s Watchmen.