It honestly feels like just a few weeks ago that I was sitting in a theater watching xXx (the movie, not the genre). Positioned as kind of an extreme sports response to the long-lived James Bond series, the 2002 Vin Diesel starrer (which I've often referred to as "Poochie: The Movie") starts out with a tuxedo-clad 007 doppelgänger being dispatched by the baddies in a manner clearly meant to announce that Bond was too staid and stodgy to make it in these modern times. Of course, that was thirteen years and four Bonds ago, so I guess we know where audiences landed when it came to that particular choice.
The point is that when it comes to screen spies, 007 is the undisputed distance champion, and where the failed xXx franchise went wrong was in attempting to take the piss out of the old man without first earning that privilege. Without kissing the ring, if you will. And that's where we see all the ways Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service steps right. While it's veritably awash in knowing nods to the tropes and iconography of the Bond canon, and could very easily have tipped over into Austin Powers territory, it manages to navigate the narrowest of tonal tightropes while spinning a ripping good yarn in the process.
Loosely (very loosely) based on The Secret Service, a comic series co-created by Vaughn, writer Mark Millar, and artist Dave Gibbons, the gleefully, gloriously R-rated film adaptation centers on a hush-hush spy agency in the vein of 007's MI6 (but operating outside of government oversight). When a rescue mission goes awry, one of their agents is killed in action, which in turn requires a recruitment drive to fill the vacancy. To that end, gentleman spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a.k.a. Galahad, takes a chance on a young street tough named Eggsy (Taran Egerton), to whom he feels a familial sense of responsibility.
Now, one doesn't need to have seen the trailers or poster to know the odds are pretty good that things will work out alright for Eggsy. If you've seen Men in Black or even Wanted (a far inferior Millar-inspired flick), this is all familiar territory. So then the only question is whether the journey to our inevitable destination is a properly engaging one, however predictable it may be. To that point, a fun exchange occurs between Hart and baddie Roderick Valentine, a tech billionaire played by Samuel L. Jackson (sporting a Mike Tyson lisp that viewers will either find amusing or maddening), with the pair discussing the precision predictability of the old timey spy flicks the one they're in is lovingly homaging.
Valentine's plan (which I won't get into here) is suitably bonkers, and while, like those early Bond adventures), there's no real suspense how things will pan out, the movie's biggest advantage is its own awareness that it's not really blazing a new trail. Kingsman is the film that Matthew Vaughn chose to direct in lieu of a follow-up to his X-Men: First Class. At the time I wondered if that was the smartest choice, but given how well Bryan Singer handled what became X-Men: Days of Future Past, and how much fun Vaughn clearly had putting this one together, I'd say things worked out exactly the way they should have. B+
For more of my thoughts on Kingsman, check out the latest episode of The MovieFilm Podcast via the embed below: