Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

What would you think if the fate of the motherfuckin’ Free World would rest in the hands of…a petty-thievin’ car-jackin’ pub-brawlin’ CHAV???

This is the latest work from renowned UK comic book writer Mark Millar (after Wanted and the Kick-Ass movies) to be adapted for the silver screen – the second one under the stewardship of fellow Brit Matthew Vaughn.

Just imagine the love-child of the Sean Connery James Bonds and the Men In Black, with The Purge movies serving as midwife.

Vaughn however shifts his focus from caped superheroics to…well, James Bond-ian heroics.  Y’know, the ones with the dapper suits and drink choices as well as the fancy-schmancy weapons. Did we mention the loopy villains with their even loopier motivations for gettin’ into the bad-guy business.  Forget being “newsworthy”, “relevant” and all that shit…Millar’s “The Secret Service” is a valentine (no pun intended) to the sheer political incorrectness of the classic Bond spy capers and a middle-finger to the “serious” trend prevalent in modern spy dramas.

Chav is to the left

You have Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (played by Taron Edgerton, whose jawline is reminiscent of a young Brad Pitt), a council-flat kid living with his mum and a perennially-soused stepdad who’d periodically beat the shite out of him whenever the opportunity presents itself. After an abortive stint training for the Royal Navy,  he winds up doing what most chavs do…share pints of Guinness with mates,  get tits-up drunk, make trouble and get his arse hauled to Her Majesty’s.

Eggsy’s got an ace on the hole though…he has a childhood heirloom, a medal his late father left him, one with a six-digit phone number and a passphrase.  What seemed to be a routine customer-service call would lead to his being spared a 12-year stretch in gaol – Harry Hart (Colin Firth) aka “Galahad”, an old friend of his late father, would pick him up and steer him on a whole different path in life as a death-bed favour.

It so happened that Eggsy’s late father is “Lancelot”, one of a select few “Kingsmen”, members of the titular spy ring operating independently from any government-sanctioned intelligence branches under the cover of a bespoke London tailor.   Just like a more bad-arse Men In Black, the Kingsmen take names of Arthurian Knights upon their induction – and gain access not just to their impeccable suits but all the gadgetry a perennially British gentleman needs to survive a run-of-the-mill street fight.

Weaponised brolly?  Check!

Oxfords with poisoned blades hidden on the soles?  Check!!

Cigarette lighters that can either deliver an electrifying jolt or a Michael Bay-esque explosion?  Check!!!

Now that’s how HARD men are made….

Training for the “Kingsmen” is a super-select hush-hush process overseen by Arthur (Michael Caine) and Merlin (Mark Strong), usually involving children from posh backgrounds – good luck then, Eggsy, in spite of Hart’s wholehearted (bad pun alert!!!) backing. He and posh-kid Roxy are the last two left in the running when Eggsy declines the dare to shoot his dog (whom he named JB in honour of 24’s Jack Bauer), losing his slot as a Kingsman by default.  Dejected, Eggsy was nearly going to be resigned to his lot as a council-estate kid if not for the unfortunate death of Hart himself.

The Kingsmen face the threat of Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson in a rare bad-guy turn), an African-American tech billionaire with a Theve Jobth-thized ego and a bad lithp (not to mention a fear of blood).  Valentine – or hith athiththant, Gazelle (model Sofia Boutella), with deadly blade-tipped prothetic legth – hath kidnapped thcientith James Arnold (Luke Skywalker Mark Hammill in a welcome cameo) in Argentina.  Valentine then decideth to co-opt Arnold’s tholution for global warming in hith plan for math genothide by mobile phone.

Well, Valentine’s plan is to offer free SIM cards to the world offering unlimited call/text/Internet service for life (damn, who just can’t resist that????).  There is a catch – a DEADLY catch at that: at a signal, users become raving maniacs bent on mindless destruction upon themselves and their immediate surroundings. After a test run in a Kentucky revivalist church (which Hart manages to defuse in typical Kingsman manner – with a whole lot of class and deft stiff-upper-lip asides) riots break out in Chicago and Rio de Janeiro.

Eggsy then steps up to the plate and gets to defeat Valentine in his secret mountain lair – after dispatching Gazelle with his poison-tipped Oxfords,  he literally kebabs Valentine with the blade-edged prosthetic legs he then removes from her corpse.

It’s a whole lot of fun – whether savouring the glee that newcomers Taron Edgerton and Sofia Boutella inject into their roles as Eggsy and Gazelle respectively, or the way Colin Firth (showing his bad-arse side for once) and even the already-dependable Samuel L. Jackson traipse through theirs with chipper abandon.

This film revels in its ultra-violence right at the start where Gazelle makes her entrance by cleaving a man right into half with her bladed prosthetic legs – a move lifted right out of current Japanese cinema.  It all comes to a head in the Kentucky church scene, where Hart makes his perchance to leave (in a most inappropriate manner) before the congregation goes all tits-up mental (to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” at that!!!).  Even the choice of music in the scene where Eggsy goes to nick a pub-crawler’s ride (Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers”) is eerily prescient.

Even more so is how the film proudly wears its Britishness on its sleeve – and we’re not talking about the sterile theme-park Britishness of The Avengers (the Steed & Peel one, not that with Cap’n America, Hulk, Thor and so forth).  We’re talking about the grubby council-flat variety where pissed-up hooligans hang in pubs to bash skulls and break teeth.  Eggsy’s chav get-up is so spot-on, with the loud, garish Burberry jacket and Fred Perry top – one cannot imagine him fitting that bespoke suit and specs so perfectly when he visits his folks at the pub and shows his step-dad the shit he learned as a Kingsman.

That scene with the Swedish princess (with a taste for anal sex) also serves as a mocking salute to the classic James Bond romps where good ol’ JB would hold off reporting to M to get his slice of post-saving-the-world T&A (y’know, getting the British end up and all that).  Now you know why Daniel Craig’s Bond is so stick-up-the-bum uptight.

Definitely top class when it comes to delivering the action set-pieces along with knowing (ir)reverence to the spy genre and its tropes. This Kingsman wears its crown with the reckless abandon of its ne’er-do-well protagonist made good.

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