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"KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE"
(2015) (Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A young British man is recruited into a secret society of spies and has to help foil a megalomaniac's plot to take over the world.
PLOT:
Harry Hart (COLIN FIRTH) is the best member of an elite spy agency known as the Kingsmen based in London. During a rescue mission to save the kidnapped Professor Arnold (MARK HAMILL), one of his fellow Kingsmen is killed, and the agency must recruit a new member to replace him. Harry takes under his wing Eggsy Unwin (TARON EGERTON), the young twenty-something son of another deceased Kingsmen who saved Harry's life on a mission 17 years earlier. Harry's boss, Arthur (MICHAEL CAINE), doubts his choice and instead has more faith in a skilled female recruit named Roxy (SOPHIE COOKSON) or Eggsy's arrogant rival, Charlie (EDWARD HOLCROFT).

As the young candidates vie to become Kingsmen, a billionaire megalomaniac named Valentine (SAMUEL L. JACKSON) plots to distribute free cell phones and offer free Internet worldwide, then activate a signal within the technology that will turn all of humanity into packs of mindlessly violent savages bent on killing each other. His goal is to wipe out most of humanity and restart the planet with a chosen few -- mostly the wealthy, elite, and famous. He employs a female assassin named Gazelle (SOFIA BOUTELLA), who has had both legs amputated and replaced with metal prosthetic limbs that she wields as extremely sharp swords capable of fatally slicing and dicing her prey.

As the countdown to Doomsday looms, Eggsy's cloak-and-dagger skills continue to evolve to the point where he becomes key to saving the world. He finds a major supporter in the Kingsmen's resident technology expert, Merlin (MARK STRONG), and eventually mounts an all-out assault on Valentine's remote stronghold.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
I must be slipping just a bit. It never occurred me to that the new action spy caper "Kingsman: The Secret Service" was NOT a PG-13 movie. It's actually rated R ... a hard R, in fact, as I came to understand within the first 10 minutes of its running time. The film is over-the-top gleefully violent, folks, with heads exploding, people being cut in half, and Colin Firth doing his best Neo from "The Matrix" impression in fight after fight. And while it's all done with lovely British accents, there is also loads of profanity. Good thing I brought a new notebook with me to the theater the other night, 'cause I did some serious note taking for y'all!

From the commercials and the trailers, this looked more like a spoof than a hyper-stylized action flick. There was the young man being recruited into the top secret society a la "Men in Black." There were the fun gadgets -- poison pens, bulletproof sports coats, cigarette lighters that double as hand grenades -- a la the classic days of Q and 007. And there was Samuel L. Jackson playing Valentine, a crazed megalomaniac with a silly speech impediment.

Somehow, though, director and co-screenwriter Matthew Vaughn takes the graphic violence, the blue language, the familiar plotting, and the crazy gadgets, mashes them all up in a blender, and pours a tasty and deliriously fun concoction. Colin Firth stars as Henry, a veteran Kingsman agent who takes the young Eggsy (Taron Egerton) under his wing when a spot opens up in the spy organization. Eggsy is a young twenty-something with loads of potential, but has so far squandered his gifts and intelligence. His street smarts prove handy, though, when up against a bunch of rival candidates who mostly hail from wealth, privilege, the best families, and the best universities. Egerton is a major find here, and more than holds his own with the likes of Firth, Jackson, Michael Caine, and Mark Strong.

The film does a great job of acknowledging its inspirations, even commenting on them directly, but somehow charting its own style and path. Just when you think the film is drifting too far into spoof and silliness ... BAM ... it hits you with a straight-up action sequence such as a truly amazing aerial dive or a pub brawl in which Firth takes on a roomful of bullies and barely musses his hair. But then just as the film starts to become serious, delving into Eggsy's troubled home life or mourning the loss of a valuable team member, it pulls off a sublime bit of humor such as the meal Valentine serves Harry when entertaining him at his mansion. It might be the best use of on-screen product placement in months. And Firth's exit line is perfect.

I have to admit, as much as I recognize the Daniel Craig James Bond films as among the best films of their respective years (er, "Casino Royale" and "Skyfall" at least) and the Pierce Brosnan 007 films for taking the franchise to mega-blockbuster heights for the first time in their history ... I'm sorry. As a Gen X'er, I cut my teeth on the Roger Moore Bonds. I know they're junk. But "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker" were deliriously fun junk. The former had James Bond tangling with a megalomaniac who wanted to wipe out Earth's population and restart the planet from under the sea, while the latter had 007 trying to stop a megalomaniac bent on wiping out Earth's population and restarting the world from orbit. "Kingsman" is a loving homage to those films specifically, with a good dash of Connery-era hijinks thrown in for stylistic purposes.

If you don't take it seriously for one instant and don't mind the hard-R content, you'll have a blast. Its pleasures are many, ranging from Mark Hamill (!) cameo-ing as a kidnapped science professor to some funny and clever references to past films like "Trading Places" and "My Fair Lady" to a comely Scandinavian princess who makes our film's hero an offer he can't resist at just the right moment in the film. You'll get your money's worth. And afterward, you may want to dress better, speak better, and even drink better. I give it a 7.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed February 10, 2015 / Posted February 13, 2015


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