19th January 2015
Ben Williams attended the premiere of Matthew Vaughn's spy adventure, 'Kingsman: The Secret Service'
By Ben Williams
After having its name changed from simply "The Secret Service", and the release date of the film moved from October of 2014, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" finally premiered at London's Leicester Square on Wednesday. Due to these changes, there has been an almost palpable sense of anticipation for the film. However, keeping the public waiting certainly did no disservice to it. The release now neatly coincides with London Collections Men, the capital's fashion week for all things stylish and sartorial - which, for a film that centres on an independent intelligence service whose home is on Savile Row - can be no bad thing. Also, the name change will only help to turn Kingsman into a franchise, which, after the success of the premiere, seems sensible, as there can be little doubt that there will be room for sequels.
Adapted from the comic book series The Secret Service by Mark Millar, with artwork from the legendary Dave Gibbons of "Watchmen" fame, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" shares many stylistic traits with Matthew Vaughn's previous Millar adaptation, "Kick-Ass". As such, "Kingsman" is a grandiose take on the British spy genre films of the Sixties, full of meta references and tongue-in-cheek homage. However, "Kingsman" manages to be more pastiche than appropriation, taking all the elements of the genre, rolling them up and regurgitating them in an explosive rainbow of balletic comic book violence, irreverent wit, and effortless style.
As mentioned above, this is a very violent film. Very violent. If you, like Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine, are appalled by the sight of blood (or severed limbs or explosive decapitations) you might want to think about giving this film a miss. But if you do, you'll truly be missing out. Because, despite the violence - or perhaps because of it -the film transcends the usual boundaries of suspension of disbelief. Everything is so over-the-top, so utterly ridiculous, that it ceases to have any tangible connection to reality. This is, after all, a comic book adaptation, and it never lets you forget that this is all just a bit of fun, even when people are gawping as their severed hand sails past them in slow motion, still clutching a gun.
Despite the many light-hearted references to Bond and other spy films and television shows, it's important to note that "Kingsman" is no mere spoof. It's a proper spy movie that somehow manages to pull off the delicate balance between seriousness and irreverence. It's a delicate cocktail, which, if blended incorrectly, could see you with either something like Austin Powers or "The Avengers". Instead, in "Kingsman", we get a film that has as much fun with itself as we do as an audience watching it.
Much of this is down to Vaughn's direction, of course, which is suffused with an energy that is hard to match and a sense of humour that combines both razor-sharp wit with schoolboy jokes. But the success of "Kingsman" isn't in the direction alone. The entire production fuses to create this perfect blend, whether it's the saturated colours of the cinematography, the lightning-cut editing, the production design (that not only manages to completely nail the Savile Row aesthetic but also pays homage to the great Ken Adam on numerous occasions) or the orchestral stings that pay tribute to the late John Barry, everything comes together. Not subtly, granted, but it all just works.
Perhaps the greatest achievement in "Kingsman" is in the casting. Firth is so good in the role of Harry Hart that it's hard to imagine any other actor filling his handmade shoes. Harry - aka Galahad - is much like the film itself: he's a perfect blend of every British spy and secret agent that ever was. A dash of Bond, a hint of Steed. Mix in some Harry Palmer and leave to simmer. He's mostly the quintessential English gentleman, but occasionally there are emotional moments where we see behind the stiff upper lip to his fragility and his ethics, and this is where Firth really shines. He's just so human and so utterly likeable.
Taron Egerton, who plays the film's protagonist Eggsy, is a genuine talent. Like his Savile Row suit, the whole film hangs on his shoulders, so it is no small feat that he manages to hold his own with such a stellar cast; starring alongside heavyweights like Sir Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson without being out-gunned is no mean feat for any actor's first film. He's certainly got the acting chops and he doesn't hurt to look at, either, which certainly won't hurt his future career.
Another newcomer, Sophie Cookson, looks like she's been doing this forever. It's the sort of performance that you'd expect from a much more seasoned actor. Admittedly, she's not given as much to do as the boys, but she takes what she has and works with it.
Always on form, Samuel L. Jackson plays a larger-than-life megalomaniacal egotist and manages to outdo himself in the role - which, for a man with a personality as large as his, is no small undertaking. Incidentally, his comical lisp is actually something he had when he was younger and he turned to acting to overcome it.
Mark Strong gives solid support and is one of the few actors working today who can play villains, heroes, and supporting roles with ease. Michael Caine has perhaps the least to do, yet he manages to have fun with the role and there's a nice nod to his past as cockney Maurice Micklewhite.
Look out for cameos from an almost unrecognisable Mark Hamill and a blistering turn from Jack Davenport as Lancelot that may have his Bond naysayers thinking twice.
Finally, credit has to go to the incredible skill of Sofia Boutella, who most will know from her incredible dancing in the Nike adverts. Boutella plays Gazelle, whose legs have been replaced with razor edged running blades. These elegant but deadly prosthetics allow her to run extremely fast, perform athletic leaps, and cut her enemies down to size. Not only does she perform her own stunts in the film, but she is also very at ease in front of the camera, and she is certainly no mute henchwoman, and gives new meaning to the term "sidekick".
At its heart, "Kingsman" is the classic transformative story, and its message is clear: It doesn't matter who you are or where you're from, the power to be the best you can be lies within you, and we all have the ability to become more than we are. By contrast, James Bond is impossibly aspirational. We can only dream of being Bond, but any of us - if we look within ourselves - can become a Kingsman.
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