If you hadn’t already clocked by our fancy new twitter set up, we here at Comic Fade are huge fans of Matthew Vaughn’s loose screen adaptation of Mark Millar’s 2012 ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’, and have spent most of September fanboying over ‘The Golden Circle’s’ imminent release. Before we flock to the cinema to see the next installment however, I think it’s a good time to look back on what made the original film so great. So, pour yourself a pint of refreshing Guinness (or a nice glass of water for our underage readers) and sit back as we reflect on Kingsman.
Oh, and be warned for spoilers.
I feel it is important to first distinguish the original Kingsman graphic novel series from what we see on the screen, as there is a stark contrast between the two. Whilst Vaughn’s Kingsman is for the most part an extremely comedic take on the spy genre, with characters often citing its’ clichés and perplexities, Millar’s comic is ironically drowning in them. It has an overall much darker, grittier tone more akin to the recent Daniel Craig ‘Bond’ movies in contrast to the film’s campier Roger Moore-esc tone, completely lacking in the movie’s signature wit. The novel still manages to be somewhat enjoyable despite of this, but is in no way equivalent to the film in that regard.
Additionally, outside of the overall plot synopsis and the core protagonist of Eggsy remaining largely untouched, the film shares little similarity to its’ source material. Notable changes from print to screen would include the scrapping of Harry as Eggsy’s uncle and changing the villain from Professor Arnold, as portrayed by Mark Hamill, to Valentine, a new character written specifically for the film. There are however, many references to the source material sewn throughout, such as having Mark Hamill’s character being captured in the film’s opening, replacing the caputre of the literal actor Mark Hamill himself as depicted in the comic.
So, what is it about this modern retelling of ‘My Fair Lady’, only with the musical numbers replaced with abundantly violent action scenes, that makes Kingsman stand out, and more importantly, how is it able to hold up so well?
In my mind, there are three main reasons that people keep coming back to Kingsman, and why there is so much excitement surrounding a sequel: the writing, the tone and of course the action. The aforementioned tongue and cheek nature of the film’s tone is what in my opinion separates it from the herd of generic action films. Matthew Vaughn is a proven comedic writer, having overseen 2010’s similar look at the superhero genre ‘Kick Ass’, as well as being able to deliver real emotion and compelling, complex characters as we saw in ‘First Class’, which is hands down best X-Men movie (don’t @ me).
In Kingsman, we can see a perfect balance of the two, with its’ generally light-hearted and self-reflective tone never betraying the film’s more serious and emotional moments. This is especially true of Taron Egerton’s outstanding performance as Eggsy, whom behind the tough, delinquent façade, has a clear belief in family and loyalty.
This dual personality is perfectly encapsulated in his introduction where, as well as standing up to his mum’s abusive boyfriend, we can see he has a deep sense of caring towards his baby sister. This sense of care is also reflected in Eggsy’s later crashing of a stolen car deliberately to avoid hitting a cat, and subsequently him taking the hit for his friends. More so than the more one-dimensional thug as seen in the comics, it is actually believable that this incarnation of Eggsy could perceivably be part of the Kingsman, as he displays an overwhelming urge to put others first. This is fantastic writing because we learn about the attributes of the character not through being told them in some weak form of exposition, but through his actions. Always, and I mean always, show don’t tell.
Elsewhere, Vaughn’s writing is a loving critique of the spy genre that simultaneously embellishes itself in all its ridiculousness. This is perhaps best seen with Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine who, despite being a villain bent on world destruction, never comes off as threatening or even intimidating, being treated more as a walking punchline through his exaggerated lisp and overly-positive demeanor. Even at his most evil, executing Harry after delivering one of the film’s many brilliant one-liners, he immediately reverts to his former self, gagging and complaining in the manner of a child.
The other major factor to consider is the film’s action sequences. Kingsman does not shy away from showing violence to such an abundant degree it could be considered to be glorifying the matter. From the brilliantly unique pub fight to the spectacular one-take church massacre that will live on in pop culture stardom, Vaughn delivers an all-out assault on the senses through tight-knit, expertly crafted choreography and a brilliant musical accompaniment that are, in one word, fun. Compare this to the claustrophobic, shaky fights, often overplayed with a dark filter to make it look ‘cooler’ seen in typical modern action films, chiefly the unholy 2016 ‘Jason Bourne’, and Kingsman will always come out on top.
The unique stylization of the film cannot be overlooked either. The film deviates from the drab, dark colour palate typical of modern action flicks with a distinctive, verging upon sickeningly vibrant look to it that reflects the tone of the film. This stylization however, is best seen in the ending scene, with the equally colourful way in which the film presents exploding heads to the beat of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’, or similarly scenes of brutal murder and carnage set over KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘Give it up’. This is what separates Kingsman from its competition and makes it so memorable, as it is so different to anything that’s come before, whilst still having the capacity to poke fun at its predecessors.
There are of course other reasons for Kingsman’s greatness. For example, the cast all give exemplar performances, notably Colin Firth’s Harry, Mark Strong’s Merlin, and Michael Caine’s Arthur, as well as the previously stated Taron Egerton and Sam Jackson. I also believe however that this success is due in large part to the brilliant directing and writing talent of Matthew Vaughn. As a whole there is simply talent and style across the board.
Where the film may fall flat however is with its’ distinctly lacking and sadly forgettable female cast. First, we have Gazelle, the blade runner portrayed by Sofia Boutella of ‘Just Dance 2’ fame, who admittedly may quite possibly be the most badass character in the film, has no personality to speak of, being comparable in motive or depth to the hordes of nameless henchmen the Kingsman mow down. Sophie Cookson’s Roxy fares a tad better, with her ‘no nonsense’ attitude and accepting nature towards Eggsy, but her purpose in the film ultimately boiled down to making a phone call and pressing a button. It would not be surprising at all for her character to be introduced and instantly killed in the sequel.
Of course, there’s the elephant in the room: the ending shot of panning right into some supermodel’s behind. Now, whilst I realize that this is a throwback to the old Bond films, which often ended in a similar manor with Bond getting his next disposable girl, this is an unneeded addition which just turns people off the film. Its unnecessariness is even further shown in that it does not add anything to the joke. In fact, Merlin closing the computer in disgust on its own functions better, as it is left to the audience to interpret what he saw.
In my opinion, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ has not lost any of its charm or entertainment value since its’ release back in 2014. In fact, in rewatching the film having read the original graphic novel in preparation for this article, I began to appreciate the artistic choices of the film more, enriching my experience. I can only hope that the sequel manages to maintain this high standard, though I have a horrible feeling that as Vaughn perfected his vision with the first film, it may be an impossible task to recapture.
So, from this Catholic whore currently enjoying congress with his black Jewish boyfriend who works at the local military abortion clinic, I say hail Satan and have a lovely afternoon.
Written by: Mitchell Jenkins – @JhjMitchell on Twitter