Based upon the acclaimed comic book and directed by Matthew Vaughn ("Kick-Ass," "X-Men: First Class"), Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into the agency's ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.
"Manners maketh man."
A lever is pulled and a wall suddenly opens to reveal a secret room filled with weapons and high-tech gadgets. There's a lighter that doubles as a grenade, a pen that can administer a deadly poison, and an armored umbrella that shoots bullets. It's a scenario pulled straight from any number of classic spy flicks and TV shows. It's the stuff that secret agents are made of. Fully embracing all of these playful old-school elements, Matthew Vaughn's 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' acts as a 21st Century love letter to the fantastical world of cinematic espionage. Packed with action, humor, and a fun satirical edge, the film becomes a gleefully postmodern take on the spy genre, twisting narrative conventions into something wholly unique yet still endearingly familiar… and always impeccably dressed.
Based on the comic series, 'The Secret Service,' by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the film follows a young British thug, "Eggsy" (Taron Egerton), who is recruited to become a secret agent for the covert and mannerly Kingsman organization. As Eggsy goes through the dangerous training process, his mentor, Harry (Colin Firth), attempts to thwart a global conspiracy involving a maniacal tech genius named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). But when Valentine's plans for destruction get out of hand, the rookie spy is forced to suit up for battle, leaving the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
Paying loving homage to retro Bond flicks and classic espionage shows like 'The Avengers,' 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,' and 'Danger Man,' the film adheres to the more outlandish and silly side of spy moviemaking -- complete with electrocuting watches, over-the-top villains, and underground bases. But more than just a tongue-and-cheek retread of the past, Vaughn offers a contemporary and faintly meta-spin on the genre. Cheekily self-aware without ever crossing the line into parody or spoof, the script reimagines traditional 60s spy conventions, playing off audience expectations while, as the director points out in the included special features, turning the dial firmly to eleven.
Speaking of turning the dial up to eleven, the movie is home to some seriously insane action sequences that are among last year's most kinetic and brutal set pieces. Yet as bloody as the over-the-top violence can be, the film's impeccable fight choreography helps to bring an oddly elegant sensibility to all of the carnage. Vaughn mixes up carefully assembled fast-cuts and slow motion shots to accentuate the characters' skilled combat and cool weapons, offering a deliberate and carefully honed aesthetic that mirrors the protagonists' own deadly yet still gallant personalities.
One rather incredible fight scene set in a church is especially noteworthy. Impressively edited to look like a single unbroken take, the sequence follows Harry as he unleashes the full extent of his lethal abilities, enhancing his escalating rage by never cutting away, letting the free-flowing massacre build and build uninterrupted. Of course, this kind of excessive violence certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea -- but while the sometimes graphically cartoonish content can get a bit out of hand, the director tempers the potentially disturbing bloodshed with a remarkably assured tone that maintains a wonderfully sharp satirical edge (especially during the "explosive" climax).
Thankfully, the movie is much more than just flashy style and action, as the cast and filmmakers manage to create a plot and group of characters that are actually worth caring about. Through Eggsy's "hooligan" to "gentleman" arc, we're given a secret-agent twist on the typical 'My Fair Lady' storyline, allowing audiences to experience the thrilling highs and treacherous dangers that come with learning how to be a spy. These training sequences make up the brunt of the film's second act, and newcomer Taron Egerton does a great job of selling his character's transformation, making it easy to invest in his story. Likewise, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, and Samuel L. Jackson, all offer strong supporting turns as well, with the latter two bringing some fun physicality and welcome eccentricity to their roles.
But as great as all of the performers are, special note really has to go to Colin Firth. Honestly, there's really no other way to put this… Firth absolutely kicks ass in this flick. As the suave Harry Hart, the veteran British performer becomes the ultimate refined, courteous, and utterly badass big screen spy, legitimately giving every past and present James Bond a run for their money. After watching the film, there's really no one else I could see in the part, and the movie simply would not work as well as it does without his effortless charm and unexpected air of danger.
Fully bringing 60s era spy action into the 21st Century, 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' celebrates and subverts the conventions of the espionage genre, resulting in a funny, exhilarating, and genuinely clever new take on secret agents. Playfully immature yet still strangely sophisticated, the film's satirical sense of humor perfectly complements its outrageously gleeful violence, and the likeable characters always keep things grounded with a surprisingly strong emotional center. Sure, limbs are severed left and right, and a few dirty jokes are thrown in here and there, but despite all the juvenile remarks and graphic bloodshed, the filmmakers never once forget their manners -- making this one of the most polite movies to ever feature a man getting his body split in half.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox brings 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc that comes housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. Instructions for an UltraViolet/iTunes digital copy are included as well. After some skippable trailers, the screen transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the disc is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Primarily shot on Arri's Alexa line of digital cameras, this is a great looking transfer that does the movie's fun spy aesthetic justice.
The digital source is clean and crisp with no notable artifacts to report. Though not quite razor sharp, clarity is good throughout, offering a nice sense of fine detail in all those fancy suits, background textures, and close-ups. Depth is also solid, especially in bright outdoor sequences, but some indoor scenes have a comparatively flat look. The color palette is rendered well, sticking to natural browns and greens in the Kingsman headquarters, while offering bolder splashes of reds and purples in Valentine's wardrobe choices. Contrast wavers from natural to slightly hot, with bright whites and mostly inky blacks.
Free from any major technical issues, 'Kingsman' comes to Blu-ray with a handsome video transfer. Dimensionality, detail, and pop are never quite demo worthy, but this is still a very good looking picture.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Fun and bombastic during action scenes, the track does a great job of livening up the fight sequences.
Dialogue is clean and mostly well prioritized, but there are a few moments where speech is mixed just a tad too low for my tastes, getting some lines lost under louder sounds (the skydiving scene, for instance). Action set pieces feature aggressive design work with solid surround use and strong low frequencies. Whizzing gunshots, falling bullet shells, explosives, and roaring engines are all spread nicely around the room with an appropriate kick. Likewise, there are key bits of directionality, like when a character exits to one side of the room, smoothly transitioning his footsteps from the left to the right soundstage. With that said, the track's sense of general ambiance is fairly minimal and outside of action scenes, the film lacks a bit of atmosphere. Thankfully, the thumping music helps to add more personality to the audio, and the score and songs come through with strong fidelity, separation, and range.
Though it's not as textured or layered as some other contemporary efforts, the sound design perks up nicely when it needs to, offering immersive thrills during all of the shootouts.
Fox has provided a solid assortment of supplements including a great behind-the-scenes documentary and some image galleries. With that said, the director makes repeated mention of lots of material that had to be cut from the final film, and sadly none of these deleted scenes are included.
Matthew Vaughn's 'Kingsman: The Secret Service' offers a playful spin on old-school spy action, resulting in a postmodern espionage flick that celebrates and subverts the genre. Funny, exciting, and just plain entertaining, the movie balances cheeky satire with juvenile thrills. The video and audio are both great, providing an engaging technical presentation. While I'm a little disappointed that there are no deleted scenes or commentary, the included behind-the-scenes documentary is comprehensive and very worthwhile. Some viewers might be put off by the extreme violence, but if you can get behind the outrageous action, this is an incredibly fun flick. Recommended.