‘Kingsman’ a rollicking take on the spy flick

By Nathan Frontiero

( Twentieth Century Fox)
( Twentieth Century Fox)

“Manners. Maketh. Man.” So goes the mantra of Harry Hart (Colin Firth), an old school, sharp-dressed spy, and one of the many charms of writer-director Matthew Vaughn’s latest feature, “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Based on a spy comic series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, “Kingsman” has many of the allures of a modern James Bond flick, but as the director and his cast slyly remind the viewer throughout the film, this isn’t that type of movie.

In the film’s opening scene, a spy plane flies into the frame and fires at a stone fortress as a thick classic rock guitar riff ignites in the soundtrack. Debris splatters off of the edifice, then bounces forward toward the camera and shifts into the words of the opening credits. These bizarre visuals kick off the film with an absurd swagger that never lets up. This is a movie that hits the ground strutting.

“Kingsman” works as both a giddily energetic action movie and a playful sendup of its broodier genre contemporaries. Meta references to James Bond and Jack Bauer alike are peppered throughout the film, goosing its already enjoyable aspects with a welcome touch of self-aware humor. Plenty of laughs abound even when the film isn’t making fun of itself or other movies. Pointed pop culture references show up when least expected, and Vaughn’s script – which he co-wrote with Jane Goldman – is embedded with razor sharp, impeccably timed wit.

The game afoot is this – Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) runs himself into trouble with the law, but an unexpected visit from Hart introduces him to the world of the Kingsman, a camaraderie of dapper lads and lasses working in secret to keep Merrie Olde England (and the world) a safe place. Hart sees potential in Eggsy despite his track record. Cue the training montage.

Vaughn keeps the main action rolling in tandem with the physically and psychologically rigorous Kingman tryouts. It’s endlessly fun to watch Eggsy verbally spar with the gentrified jerks that make up most of the training program’s ranks. Egerton reveals exceptional comedic chops as Eggsy. He effortlessly deflects and serves up snark, and provides some of the film’s biggest laughs.

The rampant (and consistently good) comedy throughout “Kingsman” can make you forget you’re watching a high-pulse spy movie, but the jokes often hit as hard as the bullets. Vaughn directs the violence with a videogame-esque grandeur, and also makes phenomenal use of classical music and danceable pop to create hard, hilarious ironies with the grislier images onscreen.

Even though “Kingsman” spends much of its energy gleefully skewering the dourer tendencies of the James Bond films, it winningly adapts the concept of the cartoonish Bond villain. Samuel L. Jackson steals nearly all of his scenes as Richmond Valentine, a batty Internet billionaire with an incredible sense of style and a particularly dark agenda. Jackson wonderfully hams it up as Valentine, who brings his own brand of ridiculousness. Valentine frequently vocalizes his fear of both blood and guns, which creates a whole other bevy of rib-splitting moments across the film.

Come to think of it, I didn’t actually know where the plot of “Kingsman” was going for about two thirds of the movie. It doesn’t matter; the film is an absolute blast regardless of how well you follow the espionage. It’s a spectacle of comedy and carnage, and offers a refreshing take on the spy genre.

Nathan Frontiero can be reached at [email protected]