While watching a James Bond movie, I have never thought that the series needed projectile vomiting, exploding heads and ultra-violence to improve it. On the other hand, it seems writer/director Matthew Vaughn may have binged on Sean Connery-era 007 adventures, found himself bored and decided to give it a hard-R rating overhaul. Instead of giving a post-modernist edge to a polished spy caper, we get a movie that bludgeons its audience before turning the mallet on itself.
This is based on the comic book, The Secret Service and was adapted by Jane Goldman, whose screenplays for X-Men: First Class and The Woman in Black I enjoyed. I can appreciate what Vaughn was going for here but the end result is a tonally clashing, trying-too-hard dud.
Taron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a troubled youth with a tough upbringing and a giant chip on his shoulder. Eggsy discovers that the amulet he’s had for years provides assistance from a secret intelligence agency. He’s recruited by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a 007/Harry Palmer blend who acts as Eggsy’s mentor. While Eggsy trains alongside other young recruits, the world is threatened by a madman named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who mounts a high-tech plan of world domination.
The first half is like an edgier Spy Kids. It moves well and keeps us engaged but has been done so many times before. Once we get to the chaotic second half, Vaughn keeps shooting his movie (and, on occasion, his characters) in the foot.
Other than the prickly demeanor and bleak home life of the protagonist, none of the characters, training sequences or story developments deliver any surprises. Egerton is tasked with carrying the movie but can’t elevate the hopeless material. Jackson’s decision to speak in a lisp for the entire running time only makes him appear foolish, in the sort of hammy villainous turn he already gave, regretfully, in Frank Miller’s The Spirit.
Fans of Oscar-winner Firth shouldn’t bother. This not one of his more stellar performances and his highly touted fight scenes are a bust. The frantic editing, bombardment of CGI gore, explosions and effects-enhanced slo-mo take away from his contribution to the action. The action scenes all resemble gaudy video game facsimiles.
A massacre at a white supremacy church wants to be a milestone pop culture splatter fest, but this is just grotesque and about as “edgy” as turning up the volume on a Sid Vicious album. The film’s best scene involves Egerton’s final encounter with Michael Caine, who brings electricity to the movie’s best sequence.
Vaughn pulls off some stunning visuals, such as the climactic scene, involving purple mushroom clouds, which is better seen than described. Then there’s the subplot of a weather balloon mission, an awesome sight to behold that the film keeps unwisely cutting away from.
Kingsman: The Secret Service has the same parody/real-deal inconsistency and bombast that plagued Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. Both films begin as fairly effective spoofs of their respective genres, unwisely kill off their best characters at the mid-point and sink into mindless excess. Vaughn is a great visualist but can’t seem to reign in a consistent feel or his tendency to bury wit in pools of plasma and CGI noise. By the time we get to the mother trying to mutilate her toddler with an axe, I wanted to walk out.
James Bond never sunk this low and rarely has Firth or Caine. They will likely shrug this off but I worry about Jackson, a great actor who casually appears in too many lousy movies. I also worry about any parent who foolishly thinks of taking their kids to this carnage-heavy misstep.
One and a Half Stars