As sadistic toys go, I prefer the spy gadgets Harry Hart (Colin Firth) unleashes in Kingsman: The Secret Service to anything Christian Grey brings out of his room of pain in Fifty Shades of Grey. But, hey, that’s just me. Caught between straight-up James Bond and the Austin Powers parody version, Kingsman is a high-octane combo of action and comedy that breathes sweet and surreal new life into the big-screen spy game where Bond meets Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer. Adapted from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ 2012 comic book series and directed by Matthew Vaughn with the same anything-goes ingenuity he brought to Kick Ass, Kingsman is all over the place, sometimes to its detriment. But you won’t want to miss the surprises it delights in springing.
In a role that fits him like a bespoke suit, Firth is everything you want in an international man of mystery. His suave British agent Harry Hart, code-named Galahad, plays by the rules of a company, headed by Arthur (a kingly Michael Caine), that names its agents after knights of the round table. Since Lancelot (Jack Davenport) died saving Galahad’s ass 17 years ago, Galahad resolves to return the favor by recruiting Lance’s now grown son, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), into the secret service. The thing is Eggsy is a lout, a street kid who seems destined for prison instead of the elegant environs of Kingsman, a swank tailoring shop on Saville Row that fronts for the Secret Service.
Got that? Now add the posh young recruits that Eggsy must vie with to achieve a place at the table. My advice? Just jump into the action and go with it. That’s what Vaughn does. The opening scene, a flashback, introduces Richmond Valentine, a big-bucks super-villain played to the hilt and beyond by a lisping Samuel L. Jackson with a cruel streak Goldfinger would envy. Valentine has a gal Friday named Gazelle (Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella) whose prosthetic legs are tipped with blades Kleb would envy. Too much of an in-joke? The movie is loaded with them, including a cameo from an unrecognizable Mark Hamill and a dissertation on Bond villains from Firth and Jackson. Newbie Egerton holds his own with a cast of pros and I loved his twist on an 007 martini — “gin poured while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth.” I could go on. The movie sure as hell does, with Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman throwing grenades into the plot every chance they get. The big set piece, and it’s a wowzer, involves a church massacre provoked by lethal SIM cards that Valentine installs in cell phones. Even when it stops making sense, Kingsman is unstoppable fun.