Movie Review: ‘KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE’ is Nothing More Than a Court Jester


Cole Clay // Film Critic

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson and Mark Hamill

Matthew Vaughn has been making intriguing films since his winning 2004 debut LAYERCAKE. He certainly has an affinity for bombastic narratives and characters alike, which have worked in nearly every faculty in every project he’s taken on thus far.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE marks his second time working from Mark Millar material, the first being 2010’s insatiable romp KICK-ASS. The two are no strangers to a heightened (meta) sense of reality, but with this go-around their creative marriage would have benefited from some refinement.

KINGSMAN is essentially a send up of the classic spy films of the 1960s and 70s, (James Bond in particular). This should be easy material for the director, but he acts on pure Quentin Tarantino style of ID that rarely gels with the genre styling sensibilities by becoming too focused on farcical non-sense.

Surrounding an uber secretive agency aptly titled “The Kingsmen” that trot the globe saving the world from terrorists, or whatever megalomaniac seems to be causing a quibble this week. More impressively the dapper gents accomplish each treacherous feat with pomaded hair still in tact and their houndstooth jackets in mint condition. Colin Firth (THE KINGS SPEECH) stars as Harry Hart, codename “Galahad,” the agency’s top man. I’ve never been too keen on Firth, but it’s without question he’s got the chops and bespoke look to be convincing in this role. While on a mission, “The Kingsmen” lose one of their own and are in dire need for a fresh new recruit.

Left, Taron Egerton in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Photo courtesy of 20 Century Fox.

Left, Taron Egerton in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE. Photo courtesy of 20 Century Fox.

Enters, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a wise-cracking delinquent with a wealth of untapped physical and mental potential. Egerton has screen presence and the bravado to allow him be instantly likable in all situations. He also has stellar comedic timing, which is no small feat for a young actor amongst some acting heavy-weights. We’ll surely see more from Egerton the coming years. But Vaughn allows his characters to ham it up far too often. This is primarily executed by the chameleonic Samuel L. Jackson in his turn as billionaire cellphone magnet Richmond Valentine, whose lisp reminisces the classic Bond villain archetype. Additionally, the ever captivating Mark Strong (SUNSHINE) falls flat as “Merlin,” the resident “man in the van,” and Michael Cane (THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY) shows up as “Arthur” and acts like Michael Cane for a few scenes.

The familiarity of the premise works in favor of the film, but the deliberate pacing and obnoxious tone becomes too self-aware for it’s own good. It’s a ludicrous style that veers straight into Looney Tunes territory. In a time that’s fixated with post-modern send ups of genres, KINGSMAN reminds us that the schtick is starting to grow stale.

Penned by Vaughn and frequent writing collaborator Jane Goldmen- the duo can’t find the right jigsaw piece to keep the Jenga tower from toppling over. Although the film has a complete understanding of its forebears, the dialogue is relentlessly bludgeoned with winks and nudges.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE is the first big disappointment of 2015, and if it wasn’t for the star making turn of Egerton, this spectacle could have been a royal disaster. Nobody is asking for a nuanced film with Vaughn’s particular brand of fun, but I would ask him to quit searching for a pat on the back.


About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.