Starring Colin Firth. Rated 14A. Now playing.
Based on the comic, Kingsman was directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by him with Jane Goldman, also his partner on Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. These cartoon-minded Brits initially appear to revive the winking savoir faire of early James Bond movies, which several characters admit missing in today’s degraded environment.
The suave standard bearer here is Harry Hart, played by semi-royal Colin Firth. Also known as Galahad, he’s a veteran member of a secret Arthurian knighthood—white, male, and run by Michael Caine, who manages to do all his scenes from comfy armchairs. His perfectly groomed followers assemble in the back of an upscale Savile Row tailor’s shop called Kingsman, and the place has everything from killer Oxfords to murderous Montblanc pens (with merchandizing tie-ins to follow).
So far, it’s more Man from U.N.C.L.E. than Moonraker. But after Galahad loses a key underling, he recruits the man’s young son, called Eggsy for reasons never explained (Welsh-born Taron Egerton). The movie offers amusing observations about U.K. class conflict, carrying this through in a somewhat ludicrous training sequence which finds Eggsy facing down snotty toffs and meeting a female soul mate (Sophie Cookson) who, refreshingly, does not become his love interest.
Sharper social commentary comes from American billionaire Richmond Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson with a pecunious lisp. The deeply ambivalent film’s Bondian villain is both a savvy observer of humanity’s self-destructive path and an arbiter giddily hurrying everyone down the damn thing. (His prosthetically accoutered assistant, played by Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella, manages to remind viewers of Oddjob and Oscar Pistorius.)
The two-hour-plus movie’s view of our inherent nature is cynical, to say the least, leading to a shocking sequence no PG rating could survive. Further escalation whisks us to a wintry alpine redoubt, hundreds of the usual faceless soldiers, and a massacre apparently orchestrated by the vengeful ghost of Busby Berkeley—plus a “sexy” coda in gleefully bad taste.
Depending on your sensibilities, Kingsman is either an energetically post-modern take on your classic English spy caper, or the utterly nihilistic cackle of a planet sliding off the moral grid. Strangely, it insists on being both.