Matthew Vaughn directs a comic book version of The Apprentice, but with spies and even more suits
Superheroes, James Bond, scary movies: they’ve been parodied so often, to oscillating success rates, despite the source material already being too self-aware. That’s the appealing challenge for director Matthew Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goldman who, after tackling Kickass, poke fun at the 007 genre with Kingsman: The Secret Service. The lively action-comedy, another adaptation of a Mark Miller comic, shares a similar universe to Kickass in its bracingly dark humour, gleeful use of costumes to push taboos, but also repetition of jokes that feel a bit too familiar.
The setup involves a junior version of Bond: working class kid Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is invited by smartly dressed Harry Hart (Colin Firth) to audition to join Kingsman, a secret team of expensive tailors who also happen to be superspies. Task after task awaits these young agent wannabes – including Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and snobby Etonites – like a deadly version of The Apprentice, where the final role is unclear, beyond having to wear a suit. These tiny battles and interactions, complemented by Firth comically hamming up his posh British caricature, are probably the film’s highlights, which become lost in a flurry of set-pieces – some memorable, some not.
Seeing as it’s 2015, the major threat to the world consists of computer chips with the potential of controlling the population – or, at the very least, anyone stupid enough to install one in their neck. Behind the domination plans are lisped billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, decked in casual) and knife-legged Gazelle (Sofia Boutella, whose legs are knives, if you didn’t understand my adjective). They’re visually unique, sure, and add to Vaughn’s comic book palette of a London that’s faintly recognisable, skewered by the enthusiasm of a director with enough box office history to do whatever he wants. (Mostly, as it was edited slightly from an 18 certificate rating to achieve a 15.)
Eggsy’s rise as a working class hero is dubious, for all the condescending portrayal of life on a housing estate. But then again, every character is shrunk to a stereotype, either for flat jokes or to speed up the narrative. One eye-opening sequence, almost certainly trying to piss off right-wingers, is also too infantile to please lefties – like when Nick Griffin appears on Question Time and all the questions are bad putdowns without much thought.
Still, it’s hard to give much “thought” to anything in Kingsman because it delivers consistently on entertainment value. Some of the violence is so bizarre, it had me wondering: is this really happening? Ultimately, there are so many highs and lows, it’s hard to judge the films as a whole, when its ingredients are so disparate. The Eggsy at the end is not the Eggsy at the beginning – and it’s nothing to do with character development. Perhaps the clue is in the final joke, involving a princess, which should certainly have been removed for so many reasons. But it categorises the film as being from the POV of an adolescent boy, which means youthful energy and regretful moments that probably seemed funnier at the time.
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