The early months of any given year are often dominated by – if not exclusively composed of – filler: prestige films whose releases were pushed back when it became obvious they didn’t stand a chance against their competition and would-be blockbusters whose release was moved up to avoid the summer’s big crowd-pleasers. And while exception certainly exist, the sage advice has always been to save your money for May. This last weekend, however, saw the release of the first legitimately good movie of 2015. And no, it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is the latest action / comedy romp from writer-director Matthew Vaughn, who is best known for Stardust, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. In the wake of a gentleman spy’s untimely death, The Kingsman – a privately funded, extra-governmental spy agency modeled after the Knights of the Round Table – seek to recruit his replacement. Agent Galahad’s choice is Eggsy Unwin – the delinquent son of a former Kingsman with a chip on his shoulder and everything to prove – while his colleagues keep with traditional and draw their candidates from old, moneyed and aristocratic families.
But while the selection process is underway, billionaire Richmond Valentine’s growing paranoia about global warming comes to a maniacal head. In order to save the planet, he sets a plan in motion to cull the global population, bringing the Earth back to a state of sustainable equilibrium. And when the Kingsman themselves become targets of Valentine’s sinestral philanthropy, it’s up to Eggsy to lead the rest of the Kingsman against him.
Kingsman is a raucous sendup to old spy shows like the Bond movies and the invariably overlooked Avengers series. It revels in the eccentric villains, playboy heroes and increasingly impractical gadgets that defined the golden age of British spy movies. Valentine’s “Odd Job” assistant is a double amputee whose prosthetic legs double as swords. In their dapper (and bullet-proof) three piece suits, Kingsman agents are loaded with electrified signet rings, remotely activated poisonous pens, exploding lighters and Penguin-styled utility umbrellas. Galahad and Valentine exchange barbs about what made the early bond films great and extrapolate how their current scenario would play out in them before ultimately concluding that “it’s not that kind of movie.”
The central narrative of Eggsy’s coming of age amidst the unreservedly classist Kingsman organization is problematic at best when you consider the film’s simultaneous love for and disdain of the lower class. Eggsy’s ability to get the drop on his fellow recruits (and sometimes instructors) is directly attributed to his unprivileged upbringing; the film as a whole, however, sets itself against those upstart Americans who so uncouthly broke off from British rule. The villain is a self-made billionaire whose idea of a private gala is serving McDonalds on a silver tray. When martially the wealthy and politically influential to his cause, Valentine effortlessly wins over the Obama administration (all of whom have their heads explode in the manic finale). This isn’t to say that the film is itself lacking, just that its often contradictory themes generally amount to a zero sum while the over-the-top action sequences and witty banter are allowed to steal the show.
Vaughn uses Kingsman‘s R rating to its full effect, loading the film down with over-the-top action sequences, outrageous gore and fairly explicit sexual encounters. In what’s sure to become its most talked about sequence, a Westbero Baptist Church-styled hate group is beaten, bludgeoned, shot and stabbed to the tune of “Free Bird.” They kill off every last man, woman and child in there seemingly just because it felt good to do so; sure, there was some shoe-horned reason to do it, but it was really just because they wanted to. The violence never becomes too much, although I couldn’t help but marvel just how much the studio allowed them to get away with.
While its wildly fluctuating themes, tones and subtext keep it from saying exactly what it wants to say, Kingsman is without a doubt the first good movie of 2015. It’s loud, messy, outrageously hilarious, endlessly exciting and, most important of all, fun. It the very best version of the movie that it’s trying to be: an overblown classic spy film with a decidedly post-millennial aesthetic. It’s Goldfinger meets Kick-Ass and will be without a doubt the most exciting movie to hit theaters until Age of Ultron in May.