When it comes to Matthew Vaughn, high energy director of Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake and Stardust, the man is a genre unto himself. That said, his latest effort, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, is all out excitement, a sly comedy and self-aware nod to the vintage spy thrillers. It is also Vaughn’s third foray into the comic world and, if it wasn’t clear by now, this is the guy to bring big heroes, and big action to the big screen – it’s fast paced, fast food cinema but not junk food.
Matthew Vaughn’s irreverence is so finely tuned and abundant that his work is unparalleled in cinema. If, as they say, manners maketh man, then Matthew Vaughn maketh awesome! Kingsman blends everything very well – drama, explosions, humor – and the film is clearly not a parody. But there are lots of references to pick up on, including homages and nods, even outright references that may go well over people’s heads. For instance, try to pick up on the Trading Places line and you’ll see that Matthew Vaughn is the king of well-rounded and genre bending, rather genre blending cinema at the moment.
Actioners excel when they are fun and Kingsman is no exception. Perhaps other shoot em ups could take a lesson from Vaughn (and to some degree Edgar Wright) in terms of style. The more a film like this can get away from the stone-faced delivery of Liam Neeson and Russell Crowe, and have fun with serious material, the better. Not to say there’s anything at all wrong with them, and Colin Firth and Taron Egerton do treat the danger as a legitimate threat (this ain’t a fourth wall breaking Austin Powers clone) but this film knew what it needed, and the key word is balance. Michael Caine and Mark Stong balance out the likes of Mark Hamill and Sam Jackson‘s lisp (it’ll make sense when you’ve seen it).
The film is about an older generation of spies passing the torch to a younger class and Taron Egerton has enough charisma to carry the film. He does a fine job with the material, but he’s still far from being an instant action hero, or household name. Still, the kid’s got the chops. Also, we’re very glad Vaughn regular Mark Strong gets a rather sizable role; all too often he gets cast in such a typical, or minor part.
For all the fun to be had, this is still a spy thriller (albeit high-concept and implausible) and the film is like X-Men: First Class with foul language. Vaughn’s adaptation is also about responsibility, honor and respect. Making this highly colorful is the eclectic cast of icons and character actors listed above but, like The Walking Dead, don’t fall in love with anybody for too long. Like a horror film, no one is safe once Matthew Vaughn sets to his pyrophoric action pieces. If it weren’t clear from Kick-Ass and X: Men, the hyper-real and over-the-top action that Vaughn presents is somehow grounded with tangible stakes, and emotion behind even the silliest of premises.
Entirely fun and slightly superficial, Kingsman is also marginally deep. Helping make this more than just dapper suits and deadly gadgets, composer Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson, Vaughan’s frequent collaborators, not only play in John Barry’s wheelhouse, but really make something new out of the spy thriller toolbox.
If there’s one complaint, it’s that the fast paced movie slugs just a tiny bit. At 2 hours and 9 minutes this feels like there’s a little too much fabric in a finely tailored suit. Yet by the time this hits full steam in the third act, it’s of little consequence and the roller coaster ride of Oxfords and OMGs becomes engrossing and infinitely exciting.
As Colin Firth tells Taron Egerton, it is not being superior to other people that make a man, it is being superior to your inferior self. That might just be the line to distinguish this from the rest of the pack that populate multiplexes every weekend. Vaughn and co. have given audiences a superior product that others should aim to emulate, or even come close to. It would make for an all around better time at the cinema guaranteed. Looking good Matthew!