A young troublemaker gets the chance to join a group of elite secret agents, to become a Kingsman.
I’ve said it before and I’ll likely have to say it again, I have much like for Matthew Vaughn. After helping to kickstart Guy Ritchie’s career by producing Lock, Stock and Snatch, Vaughn aped the former’s style (to lesser effect) in 2007’s Layer Cake.
After that, the British filmmaker started to define his own style, with the sweetly magical Stardust and the blisteringly violent Kick-Ass. Rarely were two more different films ever made, but they both lead him to his big break at the helm of 2011’s X-Men: First Class.
For his latest, he’s back on the ground he first followed with Kick-Ass, both in tone and in the source of this adaptation – again based on a comic by writer Mark Millar. And Kingsman pushes that self-aware, genre-mocking point of view about as far as it can go, and maybe even beyond.
This is a film which revels in its self-awareness, featuring characters charting about spy movies, stereotypes off every possible shade and action scenes which don’t care a jot for any kind of narrative sense.
And I have to admit, it mostly worked for me. A large part of that is the very able cast, led by a remarkably straight-faced Colin Firth and with able support from pros like Mark Strong, Michael Caine and an extremely over the top Samuel L. Jackson. These folks help to keep things just about in check when the film threatens to go off the rails.
And they do an admirable job, especially in the first half when the familiar elements (a new recruit in training, a villain’s plot slowly emerging) are doing their linear narrative progression thing. You know right from the start that it’s all moving towards a particularly theatrical, even operatic, finale, and the level Vaughn takes it to certainly shows that he’s not willing to compromise.
Unfortunately, it also leaves the last 20 minutes of the film as a bit of a shambles. It’s not without its entertaining beats but your enjoyment of them will certainly depend on how much of your brain you’re willing to sacrifice to particularly mindless mayhem.
Personally, I’ve got a high tolerance for that kind of nonsense, and I was mostly grinning by the time it came to an end. My highlight though comes an act or so earlier with an extended scene of hyper violence featuring the astonishingly committed Firth. It’s the real turning point of the film, giving you a glimpse at what’s to come later, but it’s a rip-roaring fight that may be a little heavy on the CG but makes up for it in blood-letting.
Vaughn has conjured up something pretty unique in Kingsman and it’s a film which certain audience members will have a lot of fun with, while others will be bored and aghast in equal measure. My basic recommendation – if you ever wanted to see Mr Darcy kill a shedload of people in a stylish and ferociously violent manner, then this is an absolute must-see.