From the team behind Kick-Ass comes Kingsman: The Secret Service; James Bond retooled for the Nuts magazine generation. Let’s call it Thunderballs.
Thunderballs stars Colin Firth as an impossibly suave spy codenamed Galahad, and co-stars Mark Strong (Scottish), Samuel L. Jackson (lisping) and Michael Caine (seated). The titular secret service is a secret spy organisation made up entirely of posh blokes in suits – until they recruit a working class kid called Eggsy (Taron Egerton; Jack O’Connell was probably busy), who undergoes a rigorous recruitment process; a sort of TV talent show for spies. Let’s call it For Your Stars In Their Eyes Only.
Eventually Kingsman uncovers a twisted plot by internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Jackson), whose plan (essentially a big-budget version of 2007 horror film The Signal) is almost as ludicrous as his clothes. For some reason, the 66-year-old is dressed like an insane teenager, with a bizarre lisp and shaky motivation. It’s an odd package, not sufficiently intimidating for a 007-style villain. Firth quips that Bond films are “only as good as the villain”, which in this case isn’t very good at all. Perhaps the villain should have been played straight, rather than as a joke – because like most of the jokes in this film, it doesn’t really work.
But the knowing commentary on Bond films (“Nowadays they’re all a little serious for my taste.”) is much appreciated, and screenwriters Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn throw in plenty of old school gadgets, suits and sexism. Another new recruit named Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is portrayed as highly competent and ruthless, apart from one scene where she turns into a snivelling wreck who suddenly needs help from an annoying man called Eggsy – are these really the same writers who gave us Hit Girl? Both based on comic books by Mark Millar, Kingsman does for spy films what Kick-Ass (and the even better Super) did for superhero movies – but five years later, and not as well.
The good news is that director Matthew Vaughn hasn’t lost his flair for slowmo ultraviolence; there are some stylish and invigorating action set-pieces, particularly one fight scene in a church where Colin Firth goes badass in a tailored suit. The bad news is the constant reminder that Vaughn graduated from the Guy Ritchie school of filmmaking; the laddish humour and frenetic visuals feel cheap, with some dodgy special effects that look more Doctor Who than Dr. No.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is flawed, noisy fun, with a typically fine turn from the great Colin Firth; probably the coolest James Bond since Sean Connery. It’s no Kick-Ass, but it’s eccentric, brash and the gags don’t work – a fitting tribute to the James Bond franchise.