Based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons' 2012 comic book, the movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), tells the story of a young street kid (Taron Egerton), smart but treading on the wrong path, until he finds himself recruited by an agent (Colin Firth) from a secret organization to take part in their gruelling training program and become a spy. Meanwhile, a psychotic tech genius (Samuel L. Jackson) is working on a twisted plan that could destroy the world.
“There’s room at the top they are telling you still/but first you must learn how to smile as you kill” – John Lennon.
Hiding behind “it’s only a joke” mentality, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a comic book-inspired, fatuous James Bond parody as shallow as it is glossy.
When upper-class superspy, Harry Hart (Code-name: Galahad played by Colin Firth) takes a chance on bringing a working class man into the special ranks of the English super secret service - known to a precious few as The Kingsmen - a Middle East mission comes a cropper due to an oversight on Galahad’s part. The loss of a good man weighs heavily on Galahad’s heart and so the honourable, pin-striped clotheshorse welcomes a chance to bring the dead man’s son into the unit’s ranks 17 years later. The offer comes just in time for “Eggsy” Unwin (played Taron Egerton) as he’s on an express train heading down the wrong side of the tracks. Thus the working class cockney lad goes into a school for spies that is - as the film admits in its self-referential style - an espionage version of My Fair Lady.
It’s pastiche all the way and its irreverence for everything extends from geography (the Middle East of the opening is deliberately vague) to the ultimate reward for saving the world being anal sex with a Swedish Princess (at her suggestion, of course).
While Eggsy is put through his paces, Galahad is tracking down, the villain of the piece, billionaire high-tech guru, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). A kind of groovy, lisping, black Steve Jobs, whose diet consists of fine wine and junk food suitable for shameless product placement, Valentine has a plan to save the world from climate change. The details are kept quiet for much of the film, but one look at his assistant Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) and her razor sharp prosthetic feet, it’s clear the plan involves much murderous mayhem. One scene implies Valentine either dupes Barack Obama or has him onside for this scheme. When the plan is finally revealed, it’s plain that either Obama has a better sense of humour about being portrayed as party to mass murder than Kim Jong-un or 20th Century Fox forgot to give the White House script approval.
Admittedly, the film has a thorough knowledge of its forebears and though it namechecks them at every opportunity, Kingsman brings very little that’s new or valuable to the playing table. With a mindset that pigeonholes climate change advocates as lunatics (or dupes) and believes in a jingoistic Cool Britannia (and probably Australian knighthoods too), the film’s worst crime is that it is not as witty as it thinks. Firth uses RP elocution and Jackson uses streetsmart cadence, but the lines raise tired smiles rather than laughs.
The pairing of Colin Firth with Michael Caine (code-name Arthur) serves as a strong indication of how the former’s future will develop, but the film loses all charm once these two actors disappear from the screen. Once those actors disappear, what is left is a generic “everything explodes finale” and the sinking realisation that the underwhelming Egerton has been riding on the tailored coattails of Firth and Caine throughout. If you care that Mark Hamill has a cameo, then you probably deserve this, but the rest can move on: there’s noting to see here.