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As great as the new Bond films are, it’s hard not to pine for the golden age of the spy thriller. A time when logical plot and motivation were second to a rollicking good time, and punchy one-liners and repartee reigned supreme. Matthew Vaughn’s newest action flick Kingsman: The Secret Service understands what made these classic spy thrillers great and attempts to pay homage to them by cranking these factors up to a thousand.
Following a branch of the British spy agency called Kingsman, we are treated to a My Fair Lady-type story as a veteran spy, played by the supremely badass Colin Firth, takes a young chav under his wing and turns him into a super spy. In the background, a supervillain, played by the equally awesome Samuel L. Jackson, concocts and attempts to execute a dastardly plan.
I won’t ruin the details of this adventure, but suffice it to say they do an excellent job of playing up all the best aspects of classic spy thrillers while also doing a decent, if blatant, job of illustrating what makes them ridiculous. In particular, Jackson’s villain, Richmond Valentine, is a superb blend of megalomania and eccentricity and acts as a perfect parody of the motivations and character of many of the greatest Bond villains. Nonetheless, the film suffers from some tonal imbalances, often seeming to forget what it was trying to achieve and giving in to overly soppy displays of emotion.
But these small moments of imbalance are far outweighed by the spectacular vision and execution of the film’s action sequences, which were undoubtedly some of the most innovative and flawlessly achieved I’ve seen. In some cases they were sublimely choreographed and filmed, such as a fight scene involving Colin Firth in a church, which I have no doubt will become a key example of how this kind of sequence should be done. In other cases, sequences that easily could have been upsetting or disturbing became hilarious and ingenious.
Kingsman suffers slightly from its imbalanced tone, but its overall themes and perspective combined with its superb action sequences make this one of the best action films of recent years. A must see.