'Kingsman: The Secret Service' shakes and stirs with demented spy action

Colin Firth and newcomer Taron Egerton take on Silicon Valley supervillain Samuel L. Jackson with an arsenal of cool gadgets, a stiff upper lip and a fistful of bruising action scenes.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read

"King's Speech" star Colin Firth doesn't stutter when it comes to handing out thrashings in "Kingsman: The Secret Service". Twentieth Century Fox

Word is Bond: "Kingsman: The Secret Service" has the spy romp firmly in its sights, but with lashings of sly wit and gobsmackingly gleeful carnage this sharp-suited superspy is on a mission to thrill.

"Kingsman" re-teams director Matthew Vaughan and writer Jane Goldman of "Kick-Ass", once again adapting a Mark Millar comic. Teen tearaway Eggsy, played by newcomer Taron Egerton, is the hoodie-wearing wild card offered a way out of his dead-end life by joining the super-secret Kingsmen, an independent spy agency honouring a noble tradition of dishing out righteous arse-kickings to wrong'uns without so much as spoiling the line of their bespoke tailoring.

As well as perfectly cut suits (which you can buy from Mr Porter if you come out of the cinema feeling a bit scruffy) and the stiffest of upper lips, the suave superspies are armed with an array of fun gadgets, from Bondian essentials like lighter grenades and taser-firing bulletproof umbrellas to sleek glasses loaded with a camera, mic and holographic teleconferencing system.

Codenamed Galahad, Colin Firth makes a convincingly world-weary yet utterly lethal superspy mentor. But the real star is Egerton, navigating the transformation from ASBO to Savile Row with an ease that suggests he's destined for great things.

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Michael Caine is the M-style top spy, determined to keep the Kingsmen oik-free, while Samuel L. Jackson gamely plays bad guy Richmond Valentine. Valentine's fiendish plan involves handing out a free SIM card to everyone in the world so they have free calls and free Internet forever. OK, that doesn't sound very fiendish, but I'm trying to keep this spoiler-free, OK?

Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella and Samuel L. Jackson are the bad guys in "Kingsman". Twentieth Century Fox

Jackson is clearly having a lot of fun and is as much fun to watch, gamely decked out in garish sportswear and Google Glass-style specs and serving McDonald's at a dinner party, the all-American antithesis to the stiff-upper-lippery of the Kingsmen.

Still, if I'm quibbling, the 66-year-old Jackson is miscast as an Internet whizzkid in the style of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey or David Karp: it's a regrettable fact that Silicon Valley billionaires tend to be rather younger and, frankly, much paler. While we're on the subject, it's troubling that this is a film about posh white guys saving the day while the villains are a black guy and an Algerian woman.

License to thrill

"Kingsman" is an affectionate and nostalgic tribute to the pop-art styling and high-gloss action of 1960s spy movies and TV, from "The Man from UNCLE" and "The Avengers" to "Our Man Flint". As such, your enjoyment may depend on your affection for classic James Bond movies -- and your tolerance for self-reflexiveness, with the characters even discussing their favourite Bond plots.

But this is no "Austin Powers"-esque silly send-up: just as they did with superheroes in "Kick-Ass", Vaughan and Goldman often subvert the conventions of the genre rather than goofily parodying them. And the action sequences mean this entry to the genre more than stands on its own two legs (or, in the case of Sofia Boutella's sultry spring-loaded villainess, her own two blades).

The action draws more on the acrobatic, kinetic and very stabby long-take panache of "The Raid" than the hard-to-follow over-editing of most mainstream movies. The jaw-dropping standout sequence ratchets gleeful carnage up to dizzyingly demented highs, until you're not sure whether to laugh or be sick or both. But you're surely left marvelling that one of the most brutal, bruising, bloody action scenes mainstream cinema has seen for a while has, as its avenging angel, that nice Colin Firth.

Over to you, Daniel Craig.

  • "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is in UK cinemas on 29 January, in Australia on 5 February and in US theatres on 13 February.

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