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“Kingsman: The Secret Service” Offers Violence, Comedy and Bad Taste. And Colin Firth.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn, 2014)

On Friday, at the start of my Fifty Shades of Grey review, I expressed my reservations about seeing Kingsman. Who needs an other ultra-violent tongue-in-cheek adaptation of a comic book? The trailer promised nothing new, other than a fresh-faced new lead actor. Still, I did, finally, go see the film over the weekend, and here are my thoughts.

Based on the comic series The Secret Service, written by Mark Millar (who also wrote Kick-Ass) and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (who also drew Watchmen), Kingsmen: The Secret Service is directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed the movie version of Kick-Ass (as well as Layer Cake and X Men: First Class). As one would expect from the man who brought us a gun-toting, foul-mouthed under-age Chloë Grace Moretz, this new film is tasteless and violent, as well as tastelessly violent. It’s also a fair amount of fun. Disgusting, but fun. 

Why disgusting? Well, for starters, there is a bad-ass villain’s henchman (henchwoman, actually) with prosthetic steel blades in place of legs, with which she chops and dices her opponents with the skill of a master chef. Vaughn does not hold back on the resultant blood. There’s also a scene in which hundreds – nay, perhaps, thousands – of heads explode (including, it seems, the head of a sitting U.S. President), played for comedy. And let’s not even get into the bloodbath that occurs in a church, in which Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) goes berserk and slaughters the entire congregation, all to the tune of “Freebird.” Did I mention that the film is tasteless?

Still, there are some genuine pleasures, most of which come from watching said Firth strut his (mostly tasteful) stuff as he trains relative newcomer Taron Eggerton (Testament of Youth) in the ways of cloak and dagger (or, in this case, suits and explosives). Firth plays “Galahad” – a code name – an agent in a super-secret independent “international” (yet they’re all British) espionage outfit, tasked with finding a replacement for a fallen colleague. He sets his recruitment sights on “Eggsy” (Eggerton) – a nickname (I hope) – the son of a previously fallen comrade and a kid in need of new direction, and soon we are in full training mode, a territory Vaughn has visited before with Kick-Ass and, especially, X-Men (perhaps, looking back 100 years from now, if anyone remembers Vaughn, he’ll be talked about as that guy who made comic-hero training movies). It’s a good thing that Firth and Eggerton, as well as a few other supporting players – including Mark Strong (The Imitation Game) as “Merlin” (the head trainer), Samuel L. Jackson (does this man need any introduction?) as Valentine (the arch villain), and even Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill) as a hapless professor – are all compulsively charming and watchable, as they, and not the pyrotechnics, are what make the movie work, when it works. The women – with the exception of new arrival Sofia Boutella (Monsters: Dark Continent) as the Ginsu-wearing killer – are fairly forgettable. Which should not surprise, since this is a boy’s playground.

The story, such as it is, revolves around the usual megalomaniac plotting to take over/destroy the world. And only our hero can stop him. You get it. We’ve seen this before. If you don’t mind desensitizing mayhem, and think it’s funny when a princess offers to let the main character “do it up her asshole” if he saves the world, then this is definitely the movie for you. I could have taken it or left it, but I did not emerge from the experience unamused or unentertained. So there’s that.