Kingsman: The Secret Service

Directed By: Matthew Vaughn

Starring: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, and Michael Caine

"We had to destroy the myth because [the Austin Powers movies] f*cked us.  I am a huge Mike Myers fan, so don't get me wrong, but he kind of f*cked us, made it impossible to do the gags."
-Daniel Craig, MI6

If the quote above proves anything, it's that spy movies have changed tremendously over the years.  The days of Sean Connery facing off with Goldfinger and his colorful collection of henchmen after his endlessly cheesy dalliances with the nearest woman in a bikini are long gone.  This is mostly thanks to the satire put forth by Mike Myers's Austin Powers trilogy.  When Powers found his shagadelic mojo on the big screen, the old 007 became a joke.  Immediately following the Powers era, James Bond became much more serious with Daniel Craig as the new rugged face of the franchise, Jason Bourne started crisscrossing the globe, and Jack Bauer was born.  While I've largely enjoyed the tonal shift in this niche genre, there are plenty of purists who love the gizmos and grandiosity of the old school spy movie.  Well, they finally have a reason to celebrate with the release of Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Seventeen years ago, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a British spy who also goes by the name Galahad, is unable to prevent the death of a heroic colleague in a mission gone awry in the Middle East.  When informing his fellow spy's family of the tragedy, Harry lets them know that they can call a special number with the words "Oxfords, not brogues" if they're ever in need of a favor.  In the present, Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), the son of Harry's late colleague, calls in this favor after getting arrested for taking a joyride in another young man's car.  As fate would have it, Harry's secret agency known as Kingsman recently lost an agent named Lancelot (Jack Davenport) in the line of duty.  Like his colleagues, Harry is looking for a new recruit, and Eggsy might just fit the bill.  The boy is not like the snob recruits his colleagues are bringing to Kingsman.

Elsewhere, billionaire tech pioneer Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) has given up hopes of solving the problem of climate change.  Instead, he rolls out a product known as the V-Chip.  Valentine intends to offer free calls and free Internet for everyone forever.  Arthur (Michael Caine), also known as Chester King, is rather suspicious of this philanthropic gesture on the part of Valentine.  It also just so happens that Valentine is somehow connected to Lancelot's murder.  With this in mind, Harry picks up the investigation his former colleague was leading.  Meanwhile, Eggsy competes amongst the recruits to join Kingsman under the direction of Merlin (Mark Strong).

I think we've just stumbled upon the first great action movie of 2015.  With Matthew Vaughn at the helm, there should be no surprise in this realization.  After all, Vaughn's credits include the likes of Stardust, Kick-Ass, and X-Men: First Class.  When he's in the director's chair, there's nothing but movie magic.  His latest film Kingsman: The Secret Service is no exception.  Perfectly tailored for the big screen, Vaughn's outrageously entertaining spy comedy may just be the antithesis of Austin Powers.  Rather than satirizing the spy movies of the past, Vaughn glorifies them in bloody, action-packed fashion.  With all its gadgets, stylized fight sequences, and self-aware dialogue, Kingsman: The Secret Service is one lovable ode to the spy movies of old.

Stylistically, Kingsman borrows from several fine gems in cinematic history.  First and foremost, it harkens back to the days of Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger with its depiction of well-dressed spies armed with all sorts of deadly gizmos.  Managing to deliver loads of blood and plenty of sleek violence without being gory, the film certainly is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, particularly Volume 1.  Finally, the movie's endless irreverence pulls a page from Vaughn's own Kick-Ass.  By all means, Kingsman is a film that consistently embraces the fact that it stands on the shoulders of great films past.

The cast hits the mark as well in Kingsman.  For his part as Harry Hart, Colin Firth gives us the gentleman spy with whom we're all too familiar in deliciously cheeky fashion.  For his part as Merlin, Mark Strong gets to showcase his trademark caustic wit time and time again as he whips the Kingsman recruits into shape.  As the gutsy, street smart Eggsy, Taron Egerton makes a splash on the big screen and manages to hold his own with some heavyweight British thespians.  While all of these actors deliver terrific performances, Samuel L. Jackson steals the show as Richmond Valentine.  In the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Jackson’s ever-present Nick Fury, it's refreshing to see him tackling a role as a punk billionaire with a lisp.  He is the movie's secret weapon delivering one laugh after another for the duration of the film.

Kingsman is the first movie of 2015 that I unabashedly love.  Matthew Vaughn's spy comedy the kind of richly entertaining romp that will develop a cult following someday.  This is one movie that doesn't miss a beat.  Kingsman: The Secret Service gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.