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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.