Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service is a sharp, stylish, spectacular spy film that offers more pure entertainment than any Bond film ever made. It's the antithesis of its overly serious contemporaries, a rare combination of action, humor, and character building that left me wanting to immediately see a sequel.
This project is a reunion for Vaughn and comic book writer Mark Millar, who penned both the comic on which this film is based and the comic Kick-Ass, which Vaughn also adapted for the big screen. Though Millar didn't write this screenplay (Vaughn and his longtime collaborator Jane Goldman share that credit), you can feel his influence all over this film: the irreverent humor, the meta-awareness of genre conventions, and the hyper-stylized violence are Millar calling cards. Vaughn excels at breathing life into all of these elements, and he tackles this story with the same fast-paced fun that he did with the excellent X-Men: First Class. Some of the story beats are similar - a group of talented young people solving complex challenges at a secluded, ornate mansion - but mostly, the film allows Vaughn the opportunity to pay homage to the James Bond franchise...and does he ever.
I've seen people favorably comparing Kingsman to the Roger Moore-era Bond films, but having literally just watched every single one of the Moore movies over the past few months, this is, in fact, everything those movies wanted to be, but failed to achieve. As with all movies, the most important elements are character and story, and while I won't spend time recapping the plot for you, suffice it to say that Taron Egerton's Eggsy and Colin Firth's Harry Hart are terrific characters that you instantly care about. I never cared about Moore's Bond as a person, and the (mostly) terrible scripts he was given put more focus on stupid one-liners and bad puns than character moments. The difference here is that this movie has it all: the humor actually works, the characters are relatable and captivating, and the villain's plan isn't some idiotic scheme just to take over the world. It's shaken, not stirred. There's a full-fledged story happening, and Vaughn's love for spy films shines through in the best possible way.
The movie is also a playground for its actors. When I first heard that Colin Firth would be playing a badass super spy, I rolled my eyes. "The King's Speech guy? Come on." But he totally nails it, bringing sophistication and physicality to the role in equal parts. (There's a brutal brawl sequence in a church set to the epic guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" that will rock your world.) Samuel L. Jackson, armed with a cocked baseball cap and a lisp, has a ton of fun as a tech billionaire, while Michael Caine and Mark Strong put a modern spin on the M and Q templates, respectively, from the Bond franchise. And Egerton, an actor I haven't seen in anything else, brings a great Attack the Block-style swagger to his character.
From a henchwoman who has swords in her prosthetic legs to a plethora of awesome gadgets, from a villain's mountain lair to the hero's impeccable sense of style, Kingsman delivers everything you'd expect in a genre movie. In a year packed with spy films - Mission: Impossible 5, Spectre, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Spy, and Spielberg's untitled Cold War spy movie, just to name a few - this one might be the most balls-out, action-packed, and enthusiastic of them all.