This movie initially flew way out of my radar, and I ended up missing it in theaters. At my friend’s behest, we watched it last night. Kingsman: The Secret Service follows the story of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin as he is guided to becoming a British super spy by his dead father’s old comrade Harry “Galahad” Hart. Knowing nest to nothing about the movie, I watched it with a totally open mind.
WARNING: This review contains some spoilers throughout. You can rent this today as we did on a variety of streaming services and come back, or scroll down to my “final thoughts” section for a brief summation.
This movie is…very odd. Sometimes zany, sometimes hyper-violent, sometimes serious…ALWAYS over-the top, this movie seems to struggle in finding it’s tone. As I watched, I kept thinking to myself that it reminded me of a less-entertaining version of Kick-Ass. Coincidentally, it turns out that this movie was adapted and directed by Matthew Vaughn, who did the very same on the movie Kick-Ass. Go figure.
I learned a lot while doing research after the movie. Kingsman is based off of a graphic novel called The Secret Service, which was created by Kick-Ass graphic novel writer Mark Millar. The movie is only loosely based on it’s source material, with only a small handful of characters appearing in both mediums. The film version takes more of the classic British “Gentleman Spy” route compared to it’s counterpart, portraying Kingsmen as, above all else, gentlemen. The production company even went to great lengths with the costume design, creating an actual Kingsman clothing line that includes suits and other clothing accessories.
The movie has very awkward pacing, most notably in the first act, as Eggsy is meeting Galahad and getting recruited into the Secret Service. There’s one scene where the two people meet up, depart, and in the next sequence they meet up again. It just took me a little off guard. There were other holes and inconsistencies scattered throughout that help bring the film down a few pegs. I understand that it is parody, but I always have higher expectations for a cohesive plot when it comes to spy movies. There were some sequences that were rushed through that could have used more development, when others got unnecessary extra time. It was just a confusing way to make the movie.
I wasn’t a fan of the jumbled tones presented in this movie. In reality, it’s a little upsetting. If they had taken more time and care, this could have been a really fun and interesting take on the British Spy genre. The plot and sequences just bounce too back and forth between zany and serious for me. Vaughn’s movie making style is much more well suited to a superhero themed movie, but translating it to gentleman spies felt confusing. There would be a serious part, then McDonald’s jokes, then a serious part, then super violent, high-octane fight scenes, to more serious stuff, to anal sex jokes. It was just all over the place.
I was a big fan of the concept of the Kingsmen. Classy dudes who can kick some ass. They even pepper a little nod to Arthurian lore by giving their secret agents code names of the Knights of the Round Table. Their secret lair inside of the tailor shop was a nice touch, as was the cool gadgets disguised as fancy accessories. It was just all in the wrong kind of movie.
Colin Firth is the shining star of the movie, with his performance standing out among all of the others. Even more impressive is that he performs over 80% of his own stunt work. If you’ve seen the movie, I’m sure that may surprise you. Nearly all of the most action heavy sequences in the film belong to Galahad. These scuffles are intensely violent and right in your face, and he pulls it off in a surprisingly realistic way. It’s hard to imagine that this is the same stuttering and self-conscious king-to-be in The King’s Speech, but Firth has helped prove he can pull off action and make it simultaneously hilarious and entertaining.
This opens up a new potential problem. Matthew Vaughn has stated that he intends to make Kingsman a franchise, hoping at the opportunity to make sequels down the road. Unfortunately, all of the biggest names and most interesting characters in The Secret Service almost certainly be back for any sequels. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but their end scenes were all pretty final. There doesn’t seem like there would be much hope or demand for a sequel to this movie. The main character’s performance is pretty forgettable, and I’m not sure there is much leading man potential there to merit a separate sequel. He definitely wouldn’t be as interesting as Colin Firth being involved, who was essentially the saving grace that made the movie tolerable. Even Samuel L. Jackson’s parts were pretty weak, and I love Samuel L. Jackson. Creating a sequel to this movie would probably be a mistake.
What would also be a mistake is taking your children to see this movie. It doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would be so brutal and sometimes vulgar from an outside perspective, so consider yourselves warned there. This is very much not a movie for young children It easily earns that R rating.
While Kingsman: The Secret Service is moderately entertaining on the surface, it stumbles greatly in finding the proper tone. In the right hands, a movie of this type could have been a lot of fun, but an inconsistent plot, confusingly jumbled tones, and a less than exciting performance from the main character leave a lot to be desired. There are some laughs and excitement, but nothing really there to merit a full purchase. You may be best off waiting for it to arrive on Netflix.
The Good: Colin Firth, The ridiculous church sequence, super classy bespoke suits
The Not-so-good: Awkward pacing, unimpressive cast performance, laughable effects
Similar to: Kick-Ass, Austin Powers, Men in Black
Suggested substitution(s): Get Smart, The Man Who Knew Too Little