Since the excellent “Stardust” – still one of the very best fantasy films coming out in this millennium that doesn’t have “Lord of the Rings” in the title – I’m a huge fan of director Matthew Vaughn. His brilliant “Kick-Ass” (which I still consider the best movie that came out in 2010) only reinforced my admiration for him. “X-Men: First Class”, while a huge step up for the franchise after the “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”-debacle, actually was a slight step down for him as director, in my opinion (however, I mostly lay the blame on the studio for that). Since then, though, I strongly believe that Matthew Vaughn does his best work outside of the studio system – which is why I was very happy to hear that he dropped out of “Days of Future Past” (I just wish he would have done so before Jeff Wadlow was hired for “Kick-Ass 2”; mind you, I’m not of the opinion that it sucked balls, it was a decent enough sequel, but since the budget was tightened even further after the first one, it really could have used Matthew Vaughn’s ability to make much out of little, thus making a movie look far more expensive than it actually was). Add to that the fact that “Kingsman” reunited him with “Kick-Ass” mastermind Mark Millar, and you’ve got one of my most-anticipated movies of 2015.
The only two things that had me slightly worried were that the trailer didn’t really blow me away, and that I wasn’t sure if Taron Egerton had the necessary acting chops and the charisma for the role. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. While I think that both “Stardust” and “Kick-Ass” were slightly better, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is another winner on Matthew Vaughn’s spotless track record. It took about 10 seconds, and the movie had already won me over. Vaughn has a knack for interesting music choices (as proven in “Kick-Ass”), and this sequence is no exception. “Money for Nothing” as accompaniment for a full-blown action/war-scene? Sure, why not? Another great example is the scene with the exploding heads, which again featured an absolutely perfect combination of music and images – not to mention this certain level of insanity that I’ve come to know and love of Vaughn (and which was sadly absent from “X-Men: First Class”). It might have been a little too strange for some, but in my opinion, it was a clever solution to make a scene light and fun that otherwise would have been extremely horrifying and unpleasant. Absolutely genius. I also loved the parody-elements of “Kingsman”, which takes the already over the top Bond-formula and further heightens it, with hilarious results (for example, take the Swedish princess as R-rated version of your typical Bond-girl; and, of course, main villain Valentine and his plan for world domination). Like “Austin Powers”, though, it’s all good-natured and comes from a position of love and admiration for the source material.
Another one of Matthew Vaughn’s strengths is his knack for action scenes. In contrast to so many modern director-hacks who completely chop up the action and make it completely incomprehensible, Vaughn celebrates the action, offering long takes (sometimes ridiculously so) and throwing in the occasional slow motion, but still making them incredibly dynamic and exciting. The church-fight is a particular standout, and may very well end up as my favorite action scene of the year. It’s not just the direction though, the cast is great too. Colin Firth starts off playing his typical Gentleman-self, before bursting out into a complete – and convincing – action star. My hesitation concerning Taron Egerton also proved to be unfounded; he’s perfect for the role, convincingly portraying Eggsy’s transformation from a street-smart loser to a charming, self-assured, bond-like special agent/superhero. It’s a breakout-performance, similar to Aaron-Taylor Johnson’s Kick-Ass. The rest of the cast is also great. Mark Strong finally gets to play a good guy, Samuel L. Jackson shines as over-the-top villain Valentine (even though his lisp is a little distracting at the beginning), Sofia Boutella kicks some serious ass as his henchwoman Gazelle, Michael Caine is perfect as the old, wise leader of the Kingsmen, and Sophie Cookson proves herself to be a young talent worth watching out for. Finally, it was nice to see Mark Hamill again, who seemed to increasingly fade away in the last couple of years (his voice-acting notwithstanding).
A couple of minor drawbacks prevent this from quite reaching the same heights as “Stardust” and “Kick-Ass”, though. I felt that the middle part of the movie, with the drill, dragged along a bit. The movie as a whole is quite predictable, especially when it comes to [SPOILER] Galahad’s death, which followed the typical rule for mentor-roles in movies (meaning that they die 2/3rds in; see: Obi-Wan in “Star Wars”, Gandalf in “The Fellowship of the Ring” – or Big Daddy in “Kick-Ass”), and was also pretty much mandatory plot-wise (since Roxy became the new Lancelot, Eggsy had to become the new Galahad) [/SPOILER], thus not quite reaching the shock-value with me for which they were probably aiming for. And the score by Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson wasn’t quite on par with their work for “Kick-Ass” (1 and 2). Nevertheless, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was another great entry in Matthew Vaughn’s filmography, and even though I still hold out hope for a third and final “Kick-Ass” movie (instead of a Hit-Girl prequel, which doesn’t sound very promising to me), I wouldn’t mind another “Kingsman”-adventure further down the road.