Children of Bond - Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a cheeky and very entertaining 2014 Matthew Vaughn fusion of John Steed, Bond, and chav culture. It is based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Fast, fun, crude, unashamedly British and deliberately wonky, Kingsman is a hell of a lot more fun than sitting through the last batch of Bond films. Matthew Vaughn had actually already riffed on James Bond in even more style with his prequel X-Men: First Class. "I nearly directed a Bond [film]," said Vaughn (presumably in reference to the fact that he was briefly in the frame to direct Casino Royale), "and I didn’t get the chance, but you know, if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em, or if you can’t join 'em, beat 'em, whatever the expression is."
The central character in Kingsman is Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton). Eggsy is a young man with a troubled past, living in a council estate in London. He is recruited by Harry Hart/Galahad, played by Colin Firth, and discovers that his late father was once a member of a secret spy organisation called Kingsman. Harry Hart is more or less a modern day John Steed and even has a gadget festooned umbrella. By the way, I like the way the hero Eggsy is basically a chav. Chav is a derogatory term used in England to describe a certain cultural stereotype - typically associated with young people from poor working-class backgrounds. Chavs are often depicted as being poorly educated, wearing cheap tracksuits, and engaging in yobbish antisocial behaviour.
Eggsy IS a chav but he turns out to be good decent person and even a hero. That's a nice positive spin on the chav stereotype. Kingsman has a pleasant message that anyone, regardless of their social class and background, can prove their worth, improve their circumstances, and make a difference. Kingsman: The Secret Service also explores the theme of mentorship. Harry takes Eggsy under his wing, guiding him throughout his training and teaching him valuable life lessons. This relationship showcases the importance of compassion, loyalty, and the responsibility of passing on knowledge to the next generation. It is through this bond that Eggsy discovers his true potential and transforms into a confident and capable agent.
The Kingsman agency, headed by Arthur (Michael Caine), is an ultra-secret organisation that operates independently of governments. They are a group of highly skilled agents who perform covert operations to protect the world from threats. With their superb combat skills, refined manners, and impeccable wardrobe, they represent the epitome of a modern-day gentleman spy. In the (weaker) sequel we meet the Statesmen - the American version of the Kingsman. It seems that each version of Kingsman represents that nation's stereotypical cultural tradition of 'badass' heroes. So in the United States it is sharpshooting teak tough cowboys whereas in Britain it is the James Bond/John Steed gentleman spy. Presumably in Japan it would be Ninjas or something and so on.
Visually, Kingsman impresses from start to finish, with stylishly choreographed fight scenes that are flawlessly executed. Vaughn's aptitude for crafting exciting action sequences shines throughout the film, showcasing a level of creativity and excitement rarely seen in recent spy movies. The infamous church scene, a long-take that turns into a thrilling, high-octane carnage, is particularly memorable. The plot revolves around tech-billionaire Richmond Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who presents himself as an eco-warrior aiming to save the planet from climate change. Little does the world know that his true plan involves wiping out a significant portion of the human population. This satirical take on villainous motives raises questions about the morality of those with power and their true intentions. Villainy wears many masks; none so dangerous as the mask of virtue, as Ichabod Crane might say.
Colin Firth's portrayal of the suave yet lethal Harry Hart is a standout, demonstrating his range in effortlessly switching between charm and ruthlessness. Taron Egerton's Eggsy delivers a nice balance of determination and vulnerability, evolving into a likable protagonist. Eggsy wins a place in our heart when he refuses to shoot a dog in the Kingsman training test (he doesn't know the gun has blanks). The film also boasts a strong supporting cast, including Mark Strong (who is sort of like this film's version of Q) and Sofia Boutella, all adding depth and charisma to their respective roles. Sofia Boutella as Gazelle makes a great henchwoman with her deadly blades for feet and her battle with Eggsy at the end is one of the highlights of the film. This scene, like many others, has some obvious nods to the James Bond series.

Kingsman doesn't take itself too seriously, injecting moments of levity and self-awareness into the storyline. I gather that the CGI was deliberately wonky too to give the film the feeling of a comic book. The dialogue is sharp and witty at times and the film races past at a good clip (only really threatening to stretch our patience, or mine at any rate, when they keep going back to the crazed mother with her baby locked in the bathroom). The music is pretty good too with some stirring cues for the spy themed mayhem. The film isn't devoid of faults. It occasionally veers the line between being an enjoyable homage to the spy genre and crossing into over-the-top, absurd territory. The violence may not be to everyone's taste and some viewers may find certain scenes excessively graphic or gruesome (though the gore is negated by being obvious CGI - CG gore and blood splats always seem much tamer to me than practical old school blood and gore).
Kingsman: The Secret Service is basically like an R-rated souped up Bond film that is much more comic book and tongue-in-cheek than the modern Bond films. This style is a trifle too glib and flashy to really work in a Bond film but, purely taken on its own terms, Kingsman is a nice antidote to the fad for a lot of modern spy adventure films (like the Craig Bonds and Jason Bourne) to be somewhat dour and serious. I like the first three Bourne films quite a lot but they are fairly humourless in style and tone. It doesn't have the lavish budget (truth be told, Kingsman looks a bit cheap in places) of a Bond film but Kingsman: The Secret Service is just out to give you a good time and it does this admirably with lashings of fun and action. The expanded climax where Eggsy is running through the 1960s style secret base fighting off gun toting goons is very entertaining.
Kingsman's visual aesthetics play a pivotal role in establishing its identity. The filmmakers use a vibrant, almost cartoonish colour palette that pops off the screen. This, combined with sleek and fashionable costume designs, creates a visually distinct world within the movie. The attention to detail in the production design is evident, further enhancing the overall experience. The Kingsman organisation draws its inspiration from King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, highlighting the story's theme of old-fashioned heroism in a modern context. Kingsman manages to feel both fresh and nostalgic, capturing the spirit of classic spy films while infusing it with contemporary sensibilities.
Mark Strong impresses as the intelligent and loyal tech expert, Merlin, bringing an understated toughness to his role. Michael Caine lends his gravitas and presence to the role of Arthur, the Kingsman's leader. I love the moment where Caine's facade drops and his accent completely changes. The chemistry between the cast members enhances the film's overall quality, making even the smallest interactions enjoyable to watch. Kingsman: The Secret Service is a modern spy film that stands out from the rest of the genre because it doesn't take itself too seriously. It successfully combines stylish action sequences with humour and compelling characters, showcasing a unique take on the spy movie formula. The film's visual aesthetics, clever writing, and impressive cast make it an enjoyable experience. With its underdog hero and crazy action scenes, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fun watch for anyone seeking a slightly different take on the modern spy film landscape.
- Jake

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