Well the Oscars have come and gone for another year (We can thank Lady Gaga for keeping that show from being a complete waste of time.), and now we have to hope that the films coming our way during the summer (if it ever gets here) will be better than most of the duds we got during the warm months last year. In the meantime, we must deal with what comes along, and we can always fall back on the excellent offerings on television days. (If you haven’t been watching “House of Cards” on Netflix, you have no idea what you are missing.)
As I perused the offerings at the local theaters this week in search of a film to discuss, I finally settled on “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” a movie about which I knew absolutely nothing. I chose it because “secret service” was in the title, and much to my surprise, I really enjoyed this action-packed combination of thrills and humor that smacks of the James Bond genre.
The complex story begins with the death of a member of the Kingsmen, an organization of spies whose members use aliases from the Knights of the Round Table. After Harry “Galahad” Hart (Colin Firth) cannot save one of his fellow agents, he visits the guy’s widow and son at their home in London to express his sympathy and to leave a medal with them. On the back of the medal is phone number to call if they ever need any kind of help.
Now we move ahead 17 years to a time when the son, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), is living with his mother and her abusive second husband. Eggsy has had rough youth, and he really has no direction in his life. One day he and some buddies steal a car for a joyride, and when Eggsy ends up in police custody, he calls the number on the back of the medal Galahad gave him years ago.
The phone number on the medal naturally belongs to Galahad, who arranges for Eggsy’s release from the police and subsequently tells him about the existence of the Kingsmen, of which Eggsy’s father had been a member at the time of his death. He also tells him how another member named Lancelot had recently died in the attempt to rescue a kidnapped scientist from the clutches of a billionaire wacko named Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). This nut thinks that global warming is the Earth’s fever in response to being attacked by a virus known as humanity, and his bizarre plan to break the Earth’s fever involves a lot more than just taking a couple of Tylenol.
In order to replace Lancelot, the Kingsmen have recruited nine young people (Just two of them are females.) to participate in a rigid trial competition in which the winner will become the newest member of the group. Galahad encourages Eggsy to volunteer for the trial, and when the new Lancelot finally emerges, the Kingsmen turn their attention to thwarting Valentine’s cure for Earth’s fever.
Now as ridiculous as all of this may sound, the film actually delivers outstanding entertainment, and it really caught me off guard because as I said earlier, I was completely unfamiliar with it. In addition to being a lot fun, the movie pays homage to the best James Bond films complete with some wonderful gadgetry. (Galahad owns an umbrella Mary Poppins would kill for!)
Perhaps the main thing making the film work so well is the truly outstanding cast. We’ll begin with Firth, whose portrayal of Galahad is superb. Firth isn’t known for many tough-guy roles, but early in the movie he has a fight scene against multiple opponents, and it’s choreographed so beautifully that it’s almost balletic. In fact, it was tantamount to some of the fight scenes in the incomparable “Kill Bill” films. It’s interesting that the members of the Kingsmen are nicknamed for Arthurian legends, and in the film’s production notes, Firth discussed this and also explained why the film appealed to him.
“They’re the good guys. We’re living in an age in which we’re very suspicious of our institutions and our governments. Whatever trust we’ve once had has been undermined, so I think it’s interesting to explore the idea that there is an organization with pure motives. One not compromised by the politics and bureaucracy of these institutions. The Kingsmen are the modern-day Knights of the Round Table.
“The palette and the sensibility of ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is somewhat old fashioned: the gentleman spy. It’s elegant — the cufflinks, the suit, the gadgetry built into the umbrella. It’s also futuristic and quite outrageously makes the implausible plausible. The film has that element of exuberant, high action and larger-than-life make-believe, where you have clear-cut heroes and villains who can do anything. There’s a form of superpower here. We’re not people who can fly, but we have gadgets that can do the impossible, from lighters and pens, to blades in our shoes.”
Other notable cast members include newcomer Egerton, who is terrific as Eggsy, and Academy Award-winner Michael Caine, who is predictably great in the key role of Chester King, aka Arthur, the head of the Kingsman organization. And who could be a better tongue-in-the-cheek villain than Jackson, who imbues his character with a wonderfully amusing lisp? Then there’s Valentine’s assistant, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), who acrobatically glides around on steel feet that are a cross between knives and razor blades. What a hoot she is!
Eggsy’s chief rival in the competition to become Lancelot is a young woman named Roxy, portrayed with irresistible zest and enthusiasm by Sophie Cookson in an impressive debut on the silver screen. Interestingly enough, the filmmakers made them friendly competitors instead of creating a romantic interest between the two of them, and in the production notes the promising young actress explained why this attracted her to the part and also offered some insight into her character.
“Roxy isn’t like that. She has her own objectives and ambitions and she’s very much her own entity. Roxy is one of two female candidates for Kingsman, so she’s surrounded by a little too much testosterone. She feels an affinity towards Eggsy, even though they’re very different. There were times where I wondered what I was doing, dangling in a harness upside down, about to vomit. But I’m really happy to have been a part of it.”
“Kingsman: The Secret Service” offers viewers great escape entertainment in the best tradition of top-notch spy thrillers. The performances are consistently good, the action scenes are off the charts, and the special effects are terrific. With the exception of the films that recently contended Oscars, this is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, and it earns the final score of a surprising eight. If we really had an organization like Kingsman, I doubt we would be worried about ISIS!