Matthew Vaughn has never directed a franchise. Of his films that have spawned sequels, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, he has been only a writer or producer, seemingly having no desire to do the same thing again. If there’s anything to gather from his career, it’s that he likes taking risks; and we’re not talking normal studio ‘risks,’ we’re talking mortgaging his house to independently fund Kick-Ass risks. Like, are-you-crazy-you-have-children-to-feed risks. But that gamble paid off; Kick-Ass was a huge success, and making these films that are antidotes to the entrenched genres out there seems to be turning Vaughn into one of the most consistently excellent directors around.
Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a young hoodie recruited by Colin Firth’s Harry Hart to train and hopefully win a place in the elitist Kingsman Secret Service, following in his late father’s footsteps. He is one of ten potential candidates for the job, and goes to the training ground where Michael Caine sits behind a desk a lot and Mark Strong is Scottish and has a clipboard. There are brief discussions about social privilege and characters being handed their lifestyle on a silver spoon, and Eggsy suffers prejudice at the hands of candidates who look down their nose at him – one boy genuinely shouts ‘my father will hear about this!’ – but it’s never explored much further than that, perhaps to the film’s shame.
However, a social message isn’t high on the agenda here; the purpose is to have fun, and boy do they. The fight scenes are sublimely shot, the camera ducking and weaving in and out of the action, often slipping into slo-mo for a brief moment to capture the strange elegance of a punch being thrown before speeding up into the next move.
There’s not much in terms of Eggsy’s training; Vaughn forsakes any sort of cheesy training montage, and within a single scene ten candidates are whittled down to six, keeping the focus very much on Eggsy himself and the plot, which involves Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine, a lisping villain who very much adds to the sense that Kingsman is an anti-James Bond in the best possible way. He states early on that he can’t stand the sight of blood, and he’s not lying – some spectacular projectile vomiting occurs, which I somehow doubt would ever happen in a Bond film.
The film gives nods to its source material when appropriate, but the inclusion of meta comments like ‘this isn’t that kind of movie,’ means the characters practically wink at the camera before throwing in some left-field set piece or comment that’ll make you gasp and then cry with laughter. Case in point, be sure to watch out for some fantastic head exploding set to patriotic music at the end, and a comment by a Swedish Princess I promise you won’t see coming.
Images: Twentieth Century