There are spoilers in this review, duh.

It took me way too long to write this considering I did a video review almost immediately. Whoops! Just writing about this movie makes me want to go see it again immediately. This is based off the comic book series The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar. Mark Millar is a writer with a very unique style; he’s glib, violent, irreverent, and enjoys black comedy. Enter Matthew Vaughn, a fellow comic nerd who has a whimsical and clever touch to his directing style. They worked together for Kick-Ass before, and I was a big fan of that, so I wasn’t surprised when Kingsman: The Secret Service grabbed me from the trailer. It’s very much like Kick-Ass in all the best possible ways, but it did twice as well in the theaters, and I think I know why. And no, it’s not only because Colin Firth is in as a much better version of James Bond. He wanted to get the Liam Neeson treatment; if you remember, Liam wasn’t exactly known as a big badass in his films before Taken. I doubt Firth is going to get all these action roles offered to him, since his character is a gentleman, but it must have been so fun for him as an actor. He doesn’t always need to be Mr. Darcy.

The Kingsmen are a secret independence intelligence agency created after World War I, and their agents are all named after Knights of the Round Table. Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth) is saved by a recruit during a mission because he made a mistake, and he gives the widow and the recruit’s son a medal. On the back was a number they could call for an emergency favor. Seventeen years later, the boy Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has grown up into a punk. His mother’s involved with a gangster and Eggsy has a load of potential but no real direction to aim it in. After stealing a car from one of the gangsters, he gets put in jail, and he calls for help. Harry shows off his impressive fighting skills when Eggsy is confronted by the gang later, and it definitely draws the attention of his young companion. Eggsy swears he won’t tell anyone, and Harry secretly leaves a tracker and recorder on him to be certain the boy will keep his word. He does, and it leads Harry to recruit him into the Kingsmen. They typically only recruit from wealthy and powerful families, with potential students who are well educated and mannered. Eggsy doesn’t fit in well, but his determination makes him a worthy opponent that the others grow to respect, if not like. He particularly gets along well with his biggest competition, Roxy (Sophie Cookson).

As the recruits train to fill the now-open Lancelot spot, Harry is tasked to figure out what happened to the former Lancelot. He was murdered by Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), an assassin with bladed prosthetic legs, on behalf of her boss internet billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine believes that the world is going to be destroyed because of global warming and humanity will not make any strides to change it, so he thinks saving the rich and powerful and destroying most of the masses will help make a difference. So he really believes he’s the good guy here, which always makes for an interesting villain. Samuel L. Jackson is clearly having an amazing time here with his character, who is a Steve Jobs meets Urkel type of figure. They are handing out free phones with a SIM card that when activated by a special signal, causes everyone around it to go insane and start killing one another. This leads to one of the best fights I’ve seen in years, and a fantastic example of how Vaughn just really gets Millar’s particular brand of violent comedy. Galahad is set off while in a Westboro Church-like place, and he murders basically the entire church, in increasingly unbelievable and gruesome ways. It’s one of those situations where you gasp and cringe at first, and then steadily burst out into laughter. Or at least we certainly were laughing loudly in the theater, not everyone was. Probably people who might not have liked this movie in the first place!

Eggsy fails the final test by refusing to shoot the dog they forced him to raise, although it was a test, just to prove he would do anything for the Kingsmen. Roxy won instead, but he gets sucked back in after Galahad kills the church and he is then killed by Valentine. Eggsy was furious about the loss of his mentor and approaches the leader of the group Arthur (Michael Caine), who he figures out has made a private deal with Valentine. Valentine convinced many like-minded rich people to join him in surviving this self-made apocalypse, and in exchange they all agree to put a chip in their head in case they get cold feet. It’s up to Eggsy, Roxy, and gadget man Merlin (Mark Strong) to save the day. They need to stop the satellite from causing all the people of Earth to turn on each other, kill Valentine and Gazelle, and hold those rich bastards accountable for accepting the deal in the first place. It’s a very funny film. There are some great themes involving the class system, in that Eggsy’s constantly underestimated and mistreated due to his wrong-side-of-the-tracks upbringing. At the same time, he still needs to work hard and to learn how to control his temper. His attitude is a problem in many ways and he learns to become a better person and a better spy by the end. I like that he lost, and that it’s because he has a weak spot for animals. He has a general weak spot for anyone who is innocent or harmless, and it’s what makes him a good hero. I love that Roxy wasn’t a love interest; they were friends throughout the film and she actually became the real Lancelot instead of him. Merlin was a fun character and Mark Strong usually plays villains, so he was probably delighted to be on the side of good for once.

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You can tell that all the actors are really enjoying their roles. There’s a sort of glee coming off their performances in the more dramatic or silly moments. I bet this was a joy to shoot. I think this movie was a great success in part because of its sense of humor. Guardians of the Galaxy proved that action comedy is the genre that most people would love to stay in, although even before that Iron Man really set the stage. Kingsman also pokes fun at James Bond movies while providing an homage. This is a series that could easily become a franchise if they wanted it to. Kick-Ass was a great movie but it struggled with finding a good story for a sequel. This movie leads into a sequel much easier, since the Bond-like formula is easy to churn out with likable actors and entertaining action. They say they want Firth back, although I can’t imagine how, unless it’s in flashbacks. His Harry was absolutely charming. His character was so likable that even after you watch him brutally murder a hundred people, you still feel terrible when he’s shot in the head. That’s charisma right there! If you can’t handle heavy violence and swearing, this is not the movie for you. The one and only thing that made me sigh was the last scene with Eggsy and the Princess hooking up. I understand they were joking about James Bond there, but it felt tacky and unnecessary. It was unfortunate it was toward the ending too, because if the joke was halfway through the movie I would’ve forgotten about it. Overall though it was entertaining, ridiculous, and I’ll watch a dozen more of them.

Here’s my video review where I basically say the same thing:

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