Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a young man named Gary who goes by Eggsy. We’re never told how he got this nickname. The film is full of superfluous bits like this.
Eggsy lives with his mother and infant sister in one of London’s ailing housing projects. His father died when he was just a toddler. These days, his mother has taken up with a low-level hood who degrades her and bullies Eggsy.
When a rare moment of defiance lands Eggsy in jail, Eggsy calls a mysterious number his mother gave him should he ever find himself in trouble. Shortly thereafter, Eggsy walks out of jail a free man. Outside the police station, Eggsy meets Harry Hart.
Harry, played by Colin Firth, is a dapper gentleman cut from the David Niven cloth. The two go for a pint. Harry tells Eggsy that Eggsy’s father was a Kingsman, a member of an elite group of gentleman super-spies. He died saving Harry’s life. Eggsy is incredulous until he sees Harry take down a group of young thugs using nothing but an umbrella. Before he leaves, Harry offers Eggsy a chance to try out for the Kingsmen.
And so Eggsy goes to spy-school. In keeping with the dapper gentleman theme, spy-school is more like boarding school than boot camp. When they're not practicing with sniper rifles or parachuting out of planes, the fresh-faced recruits wear uniforms resembling flannel suit pajamas.
Of course, every spy story needs a super villain. Here we’re given Richmond Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Valentine is an internet billionaire who speaks with a lisp, hates the sight of blood, and dresses like a teenager. Convinced mankind is a virus doomed to destroy the planet, Valentine plans to wipe out eighty-five percent of the human race. Naturally, he’ll pick the fifteen percent that will survive.
And every super villain needs a colorful henchman. Valentine has Gazelle, a double leg amputee whose prosthetics also act as swords capable of slicing a man in half. Spoiler alert: she slices someone in half.
As the film builds to the inevitable confrontation between Eggsy and Valentine, it becomes increasingly ludicrous. Gazelle dismembers an armed cadre of elite security officers. Harry single-handedly kills a church full of people. Eggsy picks off Valentine’s henchman while somersaulting through the air in slow motion. Heads explode in a rainbow spray of gore.
Sure, it's silly, but the juxtaposition of the mild mannered Firth and the comical violence leaves the film with nowhere to go but over-the-top. There's even a scene between Firth and Samuel L. Jackson where they have a black-tie dinner consisting of Big Macs. I can't imagine anyone but Firth pulling that off.
But casting Firth is not without its downsides. With someone like Clive Owen, the film could have gone with a more serious and cynical tone. The script flirts with having something to say about elitism and class hierarchy, but it’s lost amid the silliness.
As I said earlier, the film is full of superfluous bits. There are characters with no payoff. Roxy, another Kingsmen recruit seems to exist only to make Eggsy seem nicer than the other male recruits. She's an afterthought by the time we reach the finale. And then there are the plot holes. Like how an ultra secret organization allows most of its recruiting class to walk away after failing to make the cut. Or how an intelligence organization like the Kingsmen doesn’t have its own satellites. This is sloppy storytelling, but one is hard-pressed to care given the film’s relentless spectacle.
In the end, Kingsman: The Secret Service is little more than an adolescent male super-spy fantasy. That said, it’s not bad. It's a throwback to the days when James Bond seemed to relish his job and the films favored adventure over angst. It may not be a great film, but it sure is entertaining.