Matthew Vaughn. Just when you’re absolutely sure he wouldn’t go there. Yep, he goes there.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is adapted from a comic about a select group of undercover British intelligence agents that have been operating for years, invisibly keeping the world safe from harm. It stars Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel Jackson and newcomer Taron Egerton as a kid from the wrong side of the London tracks who may just be the perfect new recruit for this agency. Matthew Vaughn steps in to direct it as a gleeful, over the top, violent send up of all the spy movies that have come before it.
I mean seriously you can just sense him pulling out all the stops and having a good time with this material, and overall I think that fun is contagious and makes the movie work in many ways it maybe shouldn’t. Of course he also has help from a stellar cast, with Firth and Egerton putting in really wonderful and even nuanced performances that really help us lock into the important mentor/student relationship. Not to mention the story itself is interesting and full of movement, and the conceit and backstory of this spy agency is actually pretty cool and clever. But the best thing has to be the way Vaughn nails the tone. The balancing act of making a movie that is in many ways a parody, but also a tribute, and still it’s own genuine story is a magic trick few directors can pull off but I think he nails it here. And the resulting sense of confidence and fun the movie has is probably the main reason the audience is willing to forgive how far over the line of good taste that they decide to push it. And boy do they push it.
Though he uses the R rating to its fullest in other categories as well, it’s primarily the extended scenes of violence that really put the graphic into this graphic novel adaptation. I mean this movie is the Wilt Chamberlain hundred point game of body counts, it’s a record successive bodies per minute rate that may actually never be touched. And I honestly do think that plays to the films detriment, because it becomes a distraction from the things that make the film work. WIth just a little bit of restraint, you might give your audience the chance to really live in this fun and not be taken out by the relentless shock value of it. Shock that can, by the way, turn to boredom the longer it goes on. I get it, it’s fun to let the dog off the leash to run through the field every once in a while, but the risk is that he finds a squirrel to chase and you never see him again. And in my opinion the weakness of this film is a bit too much squirrel chasing and not enough field running.
Overall, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is an aggressive, fun, and inventive send up of the spy movie genre. Some great acting and a cleverly subversive universe are only brought down by a lack of knowing when the boundary has been pushed to breaking. I say it completes it’s mission with a B-.