If the North Koreans hired an inspired and gutsy director, gave him tens of millions of dollars for a budget and could somehow persuade Academy Award winners Colin Firth and Michael Caine to headline the cast, they might have come up with something like “Kingsman: The Secret Service” as an answer to “The Interview.”
That’s a compliment to both films.
Yes, this film is about a super-secret society of British agents with the self-appointed task of saving the world from evildoers — but it’s also a relentless, hard-core spoof of the old-school James Bond movies and their sexist attitudes and lunatic plots; self-aggrandizing billionaires who think they know what’s best for the world; preachy environmentalists; a certain kind of American church that invokes the name of God while preaching hatred and intolerance, and it has two visual references to President Obama, one mildly offensive and the other so over-the-top tasteless it can’t be taken seriously.
This is the craziest movie I’ve seen in a long time, and I just sat through “Jupiter Ascending” and “The Seventh Son” last week. The difference between those two deadly bombs and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is the latter never takes itself seriously, announcing itself as a hard-R parody from the get-go and keeping us in the joke throughout. On Day One of filming, they must have thrown away the moral compass and taken a group vow to splatter our sensibilities with stylish, gratuitous violence and one “Wait, what?!” moment after another.
Looking trim and fit in his bespoke suits and oversized glasses, Colin Firth looks like he’s playing the typical Colin Firth part as Harry Hart aka Galahad, a senior agent with the mysterious Kingsmen. Harry may look and sound as though he spends more time at headquarters than in the field, but when a band of thugs tests his mettle in a British pub, Harry locks the doors, turns around, takes out his umbrella — and goon blood and goon teeth start flying.
From that point forward, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” plays like an “Austin Powers” movie if it were directed by “Kill Bill Vol. 1”-era Quentin Tarantino. Director Matthew Vaughn (“Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class”) has a ballet-dancer-with-a-machete style that’s perfectly suited for a loose adaptation of the Mark Millar-Dave Gibbons spy comic book series.
(In the comic book, terrorists abduct Mark Hamill, an environmental scientist. In the movie, the real Mark Hamill plays the scientist, now dubbed Professor Arnold.)
Taron Egerton, who looks like the lead singer for a boy band and wears an unfortunate array of hats and caps through much of the film, is “Eggsy” Unwin, the obligatory smart/talented/undisciplined young buck recruited by Hart to become the next Kingsman. After an entertaining but too-long series of sequences in which various candidates are weeded out, the real (and really sick) fun begins.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Valentine, a megalomaniacal multi-billionaire who wears baseball caps tilted slightly sideways, speaks with a lisp and is convinced he can save the planet if only he can get various world leaders and global celebrities to sign on with the plan. (Jackson seems to be sending up Russell Simmons, but the performance is so broad and so ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine Simmons being offended.) After seeing Jackson cameo as Nick Fury in so many Marvel Universe vehicles, it’s kind of awesome to see him sink his teeth into a Goldfinger-esque sendup.
The Algerian dancer-actress Sofia Bout Ella is nothing short of spectacular as Gazelle, a slice-and-dice-’em villain with two “blade runner” legs a la Oscar Pistorius. The scenes in which Gazelle flies through the air like a “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” character while cutting up her foes with all the cold efficiency of an EdgeCraft 610 Chef’s Choice Premium Electric Food Slicer are fantastically and sometimes sickeningly mesmerizing.
“Kingsman” is the kind of film that uses the K.C. and the Sunshine Band pop hit “Give It Up” as a counterpoint to scenes of mayhem that would feel at home in a particularly bloody episode of “The Walking Dead.” When Vaughn sends up the Bond tradition of the hero bedding a formerly haughty lass as a sexist bounty for his good deeds, he does with a scene that plays like a prologue to a porno reel.
And somehow we get at least three references to “Trading Places,” which is not at all a British spy thriller. (I say “at least three” because I can’t be sure I didn’t miss one amidst all the other onscreen madness.)
Firth is brilliant. He’s playing a veteran super spy in a very violent but very silly movie, but even when Harry is explaining why there’s a dead stuffed dog in his bathroom, Firth gives a disciplined, serious performance.
Egerton does a capable job of keeping up with Firth, Caine and Jackson — no small feat. Relative newcomer Sophie Cookson does fine work as Roxy, a potential romantic interest for Eggsy. She should have been in more scenes.
We’re very early in the year, but the bar has been set pretty high, and it’s been bent in many a direction, for the conversation about the most wonderfully twisted movie of 2015.