DIR: Matthew Vaughn • WRI: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn • PRO: Adam Bohling, David Reid, Matthew Vaughn • DOP: George Richmond • ED: Conrad Buff IV, Eddie Hamilton, Jon Harris • MUS: Henry Jackman, Matthew Margeson • DES: Paul Kirby • CAST: Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Taron Egerton
When I say I always look forward to a Matthew Vaughn project there’s no implication of Zeitgeist filmmaking intended. As filmmakers go he’s more Dumas than Joyce; not looking to redefine paradigms of perception so much as spruce up classic frameworks with his own brand of polish, much like I’ve just done with metaphors for glossy, mainstream filmmaking with this sentence.
The same is arguably true of Mark Millar, Vaughn’s friend, second-time collaborator (previously having worked together on the terrific Kick-Ass) and all round under-arse fire-starter of the comic book community in the last few years. And like previous wielders of such titles in their respective fields (see Quentin Tarantino and Garth Ennis, respectively) both are accomplished post-modern story-tellers of essence, inverting genre and structure as they go and showing us old stalwarts from angles we’d thought unattainable and thereby shedding new light, and above all irreverent fun, upon fictional standards such as the super-hero movie or in the case of Kingsman – The Secret Service, the Roger Moore-era Bond movie.
It takes roughly 30 seconds to realise we’re in Vaughn-ville this time around, with blocks of credits crunchily exploding at the screen as we fast track towards a crumbling building in some middle-Eastern war-zone or other. Everything from the colour scheme to the symmetry of each frame sing hymns to the comic book on which it is partly based (the film and the book having been developed alongside one another) and to comic books in general, as have each Vaughn film preceding this one. The story emerges from the corpse of a man who sacrifices his life for Colin Firth’s Harry, who takes it upon himself to do justice to the dead man in question by one day shepherding his then-infant son into a top-secret spy school for a trial-run in joining the titular Kingsman organisation. Following? Good. The son in question, Eggsy, is magnetically portrayed by squeaky fresh newbie, Taron Egerton, for whom I can see a dazzling career ahead. Vaughn and newcomers, eh?
This film works on so many different levels to the comic it is pleasantly surprising. With each sneaky nod to the unoriginality of the structure (stand up, Henry Jackman, for a score so Bond it just about escapes a lawsuit) there are moments so outrageous that the fact that Vaughn was denied the chance to direct Casino Royale is entirely unsurprising. In fact, there are such gloriously violent moments littered throughout that, were it not for George Richmond’s glossy cinematography, it could quite frankly qualify for late-eighties, Hong Kong cop-fair. Indeed, what will here be known as “the church scene”, is an unashamed love letter to the best work of John Woo, and a worthy tribute to the maestro at that. Critics of this wing of modern cinema largely attack it as a “style over substance” approach to filmmaking and yet every whim of this aesthetic approach would retort that style is substance.
This approach is not without its gaping flaws. Michael Caine lets an otherwise cracking cast down by phoning in a performance that would have done better in the hands of a less iconic star, with Caine’s sheer presence sucking energy from the screen in his apparent non-delivery of simple dialogue. Samuel L. Jackson plays antagonist software giant Valentine with a lisp throughout that can only be described as poorly misjudged, a gimmick that should have been perfected or dismissed in rehearsals and I’d have gone for the latter. There is also a climatic “fireworks” sequence (potential spoilers prevent an adequate description) that made me laugh heartily but might have done better to keep to the tone of the rest of the film but a smidgen, in terms of the claret spatters.
If any of the more negative footnotes to this review might put you off seeing this, dismiss them immediately. If you see the film and you hold them against it prepare yourself for an existential crisis every time you board a roller coaster for it is after all merely the pointless tossing around of a bag-full of guts. I assure you, the rest of us will be having a blast.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Kingsman: The Secret Service is released 29th January 2015