Director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service (out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) works three different ways: as an inventive action movie, a brutal satire of Bond movies and (at the same time) a loving tribute to British spy movies of the ’60s (including James Bond films). It’s complicated, worth watching more than once and it all somehow succeeds. It was a wild success in theaters, grossing over $400 million worldwide with a well-earned R rating.
Here’s the backstory: the Kingsman is a privately-run British spy organization (okay, “organisation”) founded almost a century ago by rich guys who lost their sons in the Great War. Determined to keep the world safe from that level of senseless killing, the spies silently intervene is crises all over the world.
After a Kingsman is killed on a mission, Harry Hart (Colin Firth) decides to recruit the son of the Kingsman who was most recently killed (two decades earlier) to compete for the job to replace the dead guy. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) was raised in a council flat and has none of the polish a Kingsman needs, so Harry sets out to train him in the gentlemanly arts.
That’s one plotline in the movie. Another is the training competition between the new recruits. And the internal Kingsman politics between Hart a/k/a “Galahad” and leader “Arthur” (Michael Caine) and lieutenant “Merlin” (Mark Strong).
And there’s the evil plot to cull the human population, led by an eccentric tech billionaire played by Samuel L. Jackson. Plus Mark Hamill shows up as a college professor drawn into the evil plot, which is fueled by free cellphones with unlimited data.
There are a lot of balls in the air and somehow Vaughn (who also directed the excellent British gangster sendup Layer Cake, the similarly good superhero movie sendup Kick-Ass and the best X-Men movie First Class) manages to have it all make sense and have a complex plot that doesn’t interfere with or distract from all the outstanding action sequences.
As a countermeasure to the Daniel Craig era of James Bond, there are a lot of sly asides, but many of those asides are crude and direct in a way that mocks the weak double entendres of the Roger Moore Bond era. The payoff joke at the end with Eggsy and the Dutch Princess Tilde caused a few people to gasp in the theater where I saw it. There’s also a particularly brutal fight scene that takes place in a fundamentalist church in Kentucky, one that features exploding heads and ends with everyone dead.
The Blu-ray comes with about an hour of bonus making-of features. Fox is now offering a choice when it comes to digital bonus copies: you can have iTunes or UltraViolet but not both.
Forewarned is forearmed. This is the best spy movie in a long time if you’re down with the violence and sex jokes. If your favorite thing about Bond is how those movies tiptoe up to the line but never, ever cross it, Matthew Vaughn and crew would be most happy to offend.