I gotta admit that, when I first saw the trailers for this latest Mark Millar adaptation, I didn’t think much of it. It sounded too derivative of other, better works. To be fair, that is Millar’s modus operandi: take traditional stories and elements and remix them in his own way. Sometimes they work (Superman: Red Son, The Authority, Civil War) and sometimes they don’t. Not surprisingly, his works that have made it to the big screen have seen others take the basic elements to refashion them. So was the way with Wanted and so it is with “The Secret Service,” which becomes Kingsman: The Secret Service for its movie version. Even so, count the number of similarities between Kingsman and Wanted:
- In Wanted, James McAvoy’s Wesley is an office drone unaware that his father was once a master assassin for a secret organization. In Kingsman, Taron Egerton’s Eggsy is a dropout hoodlum unaware that his father was once on the verge of joining a secret spy organization.
- In Wanted, Wesley is taken under the wing by the Fraternity’s top assassin, Fox, who teaches him in the ways of being an assassin. In Kingsman, Eggsy is taken under the wing of their top spy, Harry Hart AKA Galahad (Colin Firth), who teaches him in the ways of being a gentleman spy.
- In Wanted, The Fraternity is a secret assassin group, beholden to no one and able to impact global matters as they see fit. In Kingsman, they are a secret spy organization beholden to no one and able to impact global matters as they see fit.
- In Wanted, Wesley has to experience difficulties while trying to uncover a conspiracy led by Morgan Freeman’s Sloan. In Kingsman, Eggsy has to experience difficulties while trying to uncover a conspiracy led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine.
- In Wanted, Wesley is given the option of going back to his normal life before feeling compelled to remain an assassin and seek revenge. In Kingsman, Eggsy is given the out and a chance to return to his projects life before feeling compelled to remain a Kingsman and stop Valentine.
I could go on and on, but I think my point is made. Suffice it to say that Kingsman is a very derivative story, channeling everything from James Bond to The Avengers (the UK version) and even a little bit of Agent Cody Banks in the mix, with a hard-R edge to it. Here’s the kicker though: While I was never really blown away by Wanted (or Kick-Ass for that matter), I loved how much fun Kingsman turned out to be. Because, without a doubt, Kingsman is tons and tons of just action-filled fun! I chalk that up to four key aspects.
First, one really has to give a tip of the hat to Colin Firth. The man known for serious or romantic movies ranging from The King’s Speech and Pride & Prejudice to Fever Pitch throws himself completely into the role of Harry Hart, gentleman spy. While many will make the direct inference of Harry with James Bond – and there’s a strong similarity when Harry gets physical to Sean Connery’s iconic spy – the way he carries himself is as much an amalgamation of other British spies like The Avengers’ John Steed and The Prisoner’s Number Six. He’s unflappable, always aware of things going on around him and capable of dealing with whatever comes at him. Firth makes Harry into a great father figure for Eggsy and it’s fun watching him match wits with Samuel L Jackson.
At the same time, Taron Egerton does a solid job as the straight man in this movie. Eggsy isn’t a brat and he’s not someone the audience can’t root for. You’re given enough to support him in his quest to become a Kingsman. That helps a great deal as his path is one that’s a bit cliché. Think of how Will Smith’s Agent J started out being the outsider in Men In Black and you’ve a similar idea as to what Eggsy has to go through. However, he builds both a solid rapport with Harry as well as Mark Strong’s Merlin and Sophie Cookson’s Roxy and ends up rising up to the challenge. That’s key in a movie like this: you want to see Eggsy become the man Harry sees in him in order to take down Valentine.
Speaking of Mr. Jackson, he’s another of the aspects that helps Kingsman. Rather than going to the usual route of a menacing ball of repressed rage like he did in movies like Jackie Brown, Jackson makes Valentine a very evil geek. Think of a dastardly Steve Jobs remixed with Steve Urkel. He’s a villain who can’t stand the sight of blood, who speaks with a pronounced lisp and who leaves all the carnage to his henchwoman, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), who uses her prosthetic legs to hide a dangerous pair of secret blades. The two of them add a flair that’s both over-the-top and right at home in this movie. Just because Valentine can’t stand violence doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous enough to not cause it and his plan is as outlandish and as dangerous.
Finally, and this cannot be stressed enough, the movie is aware of how outlandish a lot of this really is and just accepts it and goes with it. Yes, this is a movie with umbrellas that can stop bullets. Yes, this is a movie where, with one phone call, you can be released from jail. Yes, there’s blades hidden in shoes and tailored suits that can stop bullets and explosions that go up in slow-motion and bright colors. And the movie makes its peace with it and asks the audience to go along. A lot of this is thanks to the light atmosphere conjured up by director/writer Matthew Vaughn and his co-writing partner Jane Goldman. The movie has a wit and a charm that lets it get away with what is going on. It never takes itself more serious than its story and that helps everyone buy into its tone and its action and its fun.
I’d also say that Vaughn has a great eye for directing action. The same physicality that Hit-Girl’s scenes had in Kick-Ass are here but with the clean eye that marked much of X-Men: First Class. You can follow the action and Vaughn really gets a kick out of slowing the camera just enough to let you enjoy the moments when carnage gets dispensed. And he builds some great set pieces for his actors to involve themselves in action.
Is Kingsman cliched? Yes. Is Kingsman a likely candidate for late night HBO appearances? Yes. Is Kingsman derivative? Absolutely! And I had a blast with it. That’s what surprised me the most about it. It’s a genuinely good time. No, it won’t win awards or end up putting its stars on magazine covers like some other movies that came out this weekend past However, it’s tough to leave the theater without a grin. It’s a lot like listening to Hayseed Dixie or mini-Kiss. Sure, it’s not original, but it’s a damn good time. And in the doldrums of winter, a little bit of fun like Kingsman: The Secret Service might be just what we all need.