KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
Kingsman is based on the comic-book The Secret Service (2012-3), which ran for six issues and was written by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar. Millar in particular is a major name in comic-books and has delivered some classic titles including DCs Superman: Red Son (2003) and Marvels The Ultimates (2002-4) and Civil War (2006-7). In recent years, there have been a number of films adapted from Millars works including Wanted (2008), although that bore little resemblance to Millars original work, and his previous collaboration with Matthew Vaughn on the Kick-Ass films. The Ultimates also formed the basis of the two animated Marvel films Ultimate Avengers (2006) and Ultimate Avengers II (2006).
Though Mark Millar has signed on as a producer, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have made a number of changes to the comic-book. Here they introduce the Kingsmen as a private security agency, whereas in the comic-book the agency is simply the existing British intelligence service MI6. Much emphasis has been placed on the importance of being a gentleman to the extent the films website even includes the rules of being a gentleman, while a menswear line was released as a promotional tie-in for the film. The names of characters have all been changed in the comic-book, the villain was James Arnold who had a scheme that is replicated here but also involved abducting real-world celebrities. The only celebrity appearance we get here is an Obama lookalike, while the villain has been given a new name and James Arnold is now the scientist who is crucial to the scheme (and is played by Mark Hamill, which is an in-joke in that Hamill was the first celebrity to be kidnapped by the villain in the comic-book). The character of the henchman Gazelle was also a man in the book and is recast with Sofia Boutella here. There is also no codenames based on the Arthurian legends in the original.
Matthew Vaughn has stated that he regarded Kingsman as a way of reinventing the spy film. This was at its height during the 1960s with the James Bond films, the popularity of which led to a great many imitators and increasingly sillier copycats. The originals however put down an imprint that has remained the staple of the genre. After being reduced to parody throughout the 2000s with Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery (1997) and sequels and a host of mostly silly copycat spy parodies such as the Agent Cody Banks, Johnny English and Spy Kids films, Matthew Vaughn welcomely gives the spy film its balls back. His film is no less a parody in its own way but it is also one that creates a suspension of disbelief in its own reality, which is not the case with Austin Powers et al, which draw audience-winking attention to their deliberate unreality. It is also a film that is very meta-aware in terms of genre and features several witty pieces of dialogue to this extent like a scene with Michael Caine asking Taron Egerton why he called his dog JB and cycling through the possible answers James Bond? Jason Bourne? before finally arriving at Jack Bauer (although the funniest conversation is the one with Colin Firth trying to find movie parallels to describe Taron Egorts makeover). Not to mention that the presence of Michael Caine is a nod to his appearing in the fine trilogy of Harry Palmer spy films in the 1960s see Billion Dollar Brain (1967).
Part of the charm of the film just like the recent Paddington (2014) is its tongue-in-cheek celebration of its own Britishness. This is a film very much making a virtue of aspects of a British gentlemans life such as bespoke tailoring and Saville Rowe, Ascot and top hats, of taking the time to explain what oxfords and brogues are, where classic pieces of London life like the black cab secretly act as remote control cars and the brolly every British civil servant carries contains a bulletproof forcefield. Although the image was diluted through successive recastings of the role, James Bond always drew its image of the spy from the British private school and gentlemens club snobbery where the quality of the martini, ones hand at the baccarat table and the available woman in bed was as important as matters of state. Patrick MacNees John Steed in the subsequent cult tv series The Avengers (1962-9) was a parody of the upper-class British gentleman as spy, going into action with umbrella, bowler hat and suit, greeting the most ridiculous of threats with perfectly droll understatement and good manners. By contrast to these, Colin Firth is the spy as British civil servant perfectly suited, umbrella at side and pair of horn-rimmed glasses (which of course brings back association with Caines Harry Palmer) although absent is Patrick MacNees jolly unflappable cheer and Bonds louche playboy demeanour. In the central role of Harry, Colin Firth plays the droll understatement to impeccable perfection. The trailer that went out with Firth in suit and glasses eliminating a roomful of thugs sold the film completely.
Kingsman is at its best during the training sequences; slightly less so when it travels down more routine paths in taking on the villain (Samuel L. Jackson for some reason playing with a lisp). Here the film follows a standard plot of many of the modern spy film parodies one is reminded in particular of Agent Cody Banks (2003) and Stormbreaker (2006) with the young recruit undergoing a tough training regimen. The films pleasure turns out to be whenever Matthew Vaughn allows the action sequences to explode from Sofia Boutella going into dazzlingly lithe action with razor-tipped leg prostheses to the aforementioned sequence with Colin Firth taking on thugs in the pub or eliminating dozens of attackers in a church to a breathlessly seat-edge skydiving sequence and Tagon Egorts run through the villains headquarters at the end. The film completely rocks it in this regard. It also proves to be an absolute Q gadgeteers paradise. That and the perfectly droll sense of slyly mocking its own Britishness makes for an irresistible mix.
Matthew Vaughn has announced a sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017).
(Nominee for Best Director (Matthew Vaughn), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Colin Firth) at this sites Best of 2015 Awards).