We’ll never know what Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man would be like (unless he’s hired to direct the inevitable 2025 reboot of said property), but it would most likely have been very similar to Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, a Bond-homaging R-rated romp which plays like The Incredibles meets Get Smart on acid, and which utilises with spectacular results the manic, zippy technique of shooting action sequences innovated by Wright in Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Not for years have extended scenes of aggressive fighting been so enjoyable in a film; the highlight being a terrific scene which sees Colin Firth enter a right-wing US Christian church and “takes on” everyone inside. It’s almost as if Vaughn searched for the single location in which to stage a brutal but delightful scene of highly glorified violence, and decided upon a large room filled with bigoted, hateful scumbags: genius. The film’s morals are consistently questionable and unclear, and a painfully unnecessary and avoidable injection of misogyny in the last 10 minutes almost ruins the fun, but Kingsman is a perfect example of the kind of fun, smart and sexy blockbuster we don’t get to experience very often any more. Guardians of the Galaxy came close with a self-knowing, funky attitude similar to Kingsman‘s, but was hindered by studio inference and enforced family-friendliness. Matthew Vaughn paid for Kingsman out of his own pocket before 20th Century Fox picked it up for distribution, and it really shows. He doesn’t care if his expensive blockbuster gets an R rating and can’t play to the teens it would typically be marketed towards; he doesn’t care if it makes a profit. If he did, he wouldn’t have made Kingsman! Like the characters in the film, Vaughn doesn’t really give a shit, and his art is all the better for it.
Colin Firth- the epitomic gentleman- is perfect casting as veteran Kingsman agent Harry Hart, but it is total newcomer Taron Egerton as young protagonist Eggsy, introduced to the mysterious world of espionage by Hart, who deserves the most acclaim. Egerton is equally believable as the tough working-class London teenager of the first act as he is in the role of debonaire Kingsman pro in the finale; he’s charming and engaging, and- at risk of sounding extremely patronising- he “has a very bright future”. Sophie Cookson is also surprisingly strong as Eggsy’s female counterpart in the Kingsman initiation programme, and it’s easy to imagine her having made an excellent Hermione Granger. On the subject of Harry Potter and- for that matter- the unsuccessful 2006 adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s Stormbreaker, another London-teen-becomes-spy story, one of Kingsman‘s few hiccups is a painfully misjudged “First Day of Boarding School” sequence, in which more bad cinematic clichés are thrown on Vaughn’s screen as in the rest of the film combined. This, along with a shockingly cheap and hence underwhelming skydiving set-piece, are brief reminders of how bad a film like Kingsman can be when put in the wrong hands and released with the wrong expectations. Kingsman is a film for adults: it wants to be, it knows it is and it is hugely successful in this regard.
After wasting his talents on the role on Nick Fury for half a decade, Samuel L. Jackson gives his most throughly amusing performance in years as charmingly old-fashioned megalomaniac villain Valentine, whose pathetic excuses for wanting to wipe out The 99% are as funny as they are resonant and topical. The majority of its audience may not notice, but Kingsman is a very political film: bearing important themes about the British class system and the pretentious nature of the wealthy. Yes, it may sound like we’re digging a little too deep into a film which prides itself on its lack of depth, but Vaughn’s wealthy background and the areas of the working-class lifestyle he chooses to explore in Kingsman make watching the film in such a frame of mind a fascinating experience.
Kingsman is crude, cynical and often broadly offensive, but it’s determined and destined to provoke a childlike sense of glee in all who watch, gasping at the secret lairs and slick gadgets which Firth and his team employ. If Guardians of the Galaxy was a comedy for adults disguised as an adventure for kids, Matthew Vaughn’s film is an adventure for kids hidden inside a violent R-rated actioner. IT’S FUCKING AWESOME.