Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service – Bond parody turns on the charm

JAMES Bond parodies. There’s been a whole bunch of them over the years, from Austin Powers to Johnny English to that bizarre time when they tried to make Casino Royale as a comedy. Even as I write this, the dreadful Mortdecai has been dolloped into cinemas with the dubious dishonour of being the first major bomb of 2015. Mortdecai’s timing was unfortunate here in the UK, where it may have garnered an audience if not for the much more promising Kingsman: The Secret Service following hot on its trail.

I saw Kingsman in an advanced 2D screening only available to Cineworld Unlimited customers. The cinema was packed, and the excitement was palpable. In a January filled with excellent but heavy award-bait pictures, here we had a balls-to-the-wall movie event. The trailer was hilarious, the cast was filled with actors who rarely disappoint (including Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Mark Strong) and, even better, the film was refreshingly British. We got exactly what we came for, and more. I’m definitely going back to see it in IMAX or D-BOX or whatever the youngsters are into now.

The storyline of Kingsman is familiar: A young man who has fallen on hard times is recruited to fulfil his late father’s destiny by an enigmatic mentor. Yes, it’s a “chosen one” narrative. Unlike most of the Potter copies though, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin is a charismatic, authentic and funny character who comes to us fully-formed and is handled with great care by newcomer Taron Egerton.

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Egerton has been bumped down the cast list unfairly: this is every bit his movie. Firth, Caine and Jackson may fill the seats, but Egerton is the one you’ll leave talking about. He is diverse, charming and holds his own in a film which could easily swallow him. He’s one of the most exciting actors under thirty, and he’s sure to have a massive career. And I promise I’m not just saying all these nice things because he’s from Aberystwyth.

The Secret Service of the title is inspired by the Knights of the Round Table, with Michael Caine playing Arthur (essentially the M of this group), Mark Strong playing Merlin (he’s Q) and Colin Firth playing agent Galahad (there’s a fleet of 00-like agents, but only a couple are really important characters here).

The Arthurian nicknames are passed down over time, and each member has selected a protégé in place to take over for the recently murdered agent Lancelot (played by Jack Davenport in a riotous early cameo). Eggsy is Galahad’s wildcard choice, a young working-class hellraiser (read: chav) who excelled as a child but has given up on himself. Everyone else in the training camp is a stuck-up Oxbridge arsehole.

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That is except for Roxy, the obvious token love interest played by new face Sophie Cookson. Oh, by the way, she’s actually not a token or a love interest. She’s never the damsel in distress, she’s never put in a skimpy revealing outfit, and she even has a personality that doesn’t revolve around her relationship with the male protagonist. No wonder Emma Watson was their first choice…

Samuel L. Jackson is having the time of his life in this movie. He’s almost beyond criticism as an actor, since even in bad movies he’s always the one redeeming performer. He exudes so much charisma, wit and energy that you simply can’t fault him. He’s a perfect villain for this film. His character, Richmond Valentine, is a wealthy social media magnate on a crusade to stop global warming by any means necessary.

He’s squeamish and can’t stand violence, but happily allows violence to happen on his behalf. Watching the most badass actor in the world play such a pussy never gets old. He delivers many of the film’s best jokes completely straight, even making his unsubtle lisp work in his favour. The man can do no wrong, as I’m sure you already know.

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I’ve avoided saying too much about the plot because, while the premise is nothing new, the twists and turns it takes are very refreshing. The methods used by Valentine to deal with his enemies are darker and more outrageous than you’ll find in a modern Bond or Bourne film, and the tension is very real. The fight choreography is beyond belief; one extended sequence in particular will amaze you, but I dare not spoil it here.

Matthew Vaughn has outdone himself in this film. Everything works, everything flows and everything is memorable. From the palpable duels by Valentine’s sidekick Gazelle (the deadliest human on blade-legs since Oscar Pistorius) to the good old-fashioned parachuting sequence, he fills the screen with thrills without neglecting the characters or the humour.

The lesson to take away from Kingsman is this: If you want to make a parody, don’t just make a parody. Make your film stand on its own, with its own characters and its own storyline, then use the familiar tropes and references to pepper the self-sufficient product. It may draw people in with its comparisons to Bond, but now the question is whether the next Bond, due later this year, can be as good as Kingsman.

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