Men in suits with impeccable grace and suave are nothing new as far as Spy films are concerned. And that precisely is one of the reasons why Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ may be perceived as ‘old wine in new bottle’. But before we judge it as a ‘wannabe James Bond’ franchise one-off, Kingsman’s distinguishable cinematic uniqueness deserves more discussion. Kingsman remains as a rejuvenating dare that explored spy movies, by synthesizing thrilling formulae with a rough and tumble treatment, highly volatile action sequences and a cinematic rhythm that hyperboles with well-orchestrated stunts. Coming off at first as a flick with the Bond shtick forced into it, Matthew Vaughn’s foresight is solid like his film’s treatment – it surprises you just when you are ready to typecast it as another generic spy movie.
While on a mission in the Middle East, an agent who is part of an espionage network, calling themselves the Kingsmen, sacrifices his life to protect his superior from a grenade blast. Unable to bear with the loss of his beloved colleague, the team lead reaches out to his good friend’s wife. He gives her young son Eggsy, a medal with an emergency number on it.
Close to a decade later, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is seen as a streetwise troublemaker who engages himself in petty crimes and car thefts. Despite having higher IQ and capabilities, Eggsy drops out of the training for Royal Marines. After being humiliated at a local pub by a group of young brats, Eggsy pays it back by stealing the main man’s car. He is incarcerated and while in custody, he calls the number. Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who goes by the code name Galahad, responds to the call and helps Eggsy out.
Soon after, Galahad asks Eggsy to join him to become a Kingsman. Eggsy becomes Galahad’s candidate as he is taken to a boot camp where numerous other candidates are made to go through rigorous training sessions. Thinking that ‘everyman for himself’ would be the best attitude to survive the boot camp candidates ruthlessly try to win the sessions except for Eggsy who makes sure that his fellow candidates are kept from harm’s way as he ventures into each test. Seeing through Eggsy’s kind-hearted attitude of putting himself out there as a helper than as competition, ‘Merlin’ (Mark Strong) the conductor of the tests ends up having Eggsy and Roxy (Sophie Cookson), a female candidate who has a similar perspective like Eggsy, as the final candidates. However, Eggsy has one last test where he is tasked with killing a puppy he was made to nurture through the tests to prove his loyalty to Kingsmen. Eggsy denies to g through the test and Roxy is named the next Kingsman under the code name ‘Lancelot’.
Kingsmen immerse themselves as the kidnapping of one of the top physics professors named James Arnold (Played by Mark Hamil) hits the news. Kingsmen sents one of their best to get Arnold back. But the agent is killed by the hybrid assassin Gazelle who has blades for legs and is ruthless in spilling blood. Tracing the incidents to find the source, Merlin discovers the person behind the mayhem – Internet millionaire Richmond Valentine (Sam Jackson). Harry peruses Valentine whose flamboyant persona and far-fetched scheme of providing free internet to the entire world starts worrying the Kingsmen. Valentine’s plans are later revealed as a devious attempt to deal with environmental problems by getting rid of the majority of the world’s population. His scheme involves inserting a sim card into the human body that triggers a killing frenzy when he initiates a technical procedure from the comfort of his room.
Galahad traces Valentine to a hate group consisting of Christian extremists inside a roadside chapel. Sensing Galahad’s presence, Valentine gleefully triggers his little sim card death waves. The chapel erupts into a chaotic bloodbath as Galahad and the rest fight it out like dogs inflicted with rabies. At the end of the fight, Galahad survives it only to be shot in the face by Valentine who confronts him outside the chapel.
After hearing the devastating news, Eggsy reaches the headquarters of Kingsmen where he meets King (Michale Caine). Realizing that King too has a scar on his neck Eggsy diplomatically engages in a conversation in the middle of which King tries to poisoning Eggsy. From King, Eggsy comes to know that Valentine’s plans are going to be even more catastrophic as the psychopath manoeuvres ways to use the satellite to trigger his neurological killer wave.
Merlin and Eggsy meet to avenge Galahad’s murderer. They set out to Valentine’s base where a handful of elites are chosen by Valentine to be kept intact while he unleashes his kill trigger. Eggsy enters under the name of King but is soon found by an ex Kingsman recruit. What ensues is total mayhem as Merlin and Eggsy fight it out with Valentine’s henchmen. Realising that he has to act instantly Valentine taps the button to activate his Sim card tumult.
Merlin meanwhile hacks the fail-safe plan of Valentine and happily watches the heads explode as Valentine’s trusted group of elites becomes dismembered. Eggsy’s final confrontation is with Gazelle. Ripping through everything Eggsy uses as a shield including a steel tray, Gazelle puts up her best moves as Eggsy encounters sharp metallic limbs at close proximity. In a final slow-motion move, Eggsy is seen using his ‘shoe blade’ to nick Gazelle. Unbeknownst to her is the poison that has entered her veins. Spreading out like a wild creeper, it engulfs her veins as she succumbs to the young Kingsman’s death move. Ripping out a metal leg from Gazelle’s corpse, Eggsy throws the blades right through Valentine who falls down dead. As Eggsy gives him a final few moments, Valentine looks at his killer and delivers his last line ‘Perfect’ and dies.
Eggsy pays a visit to his mother who is seen seated at the same pub with her abusive husband. Eggsy is clad in a sleek suit reminiscing us of Galahad’s encounter with him in the same place. As Eggsy is asked to leave by his stepdad, he walks towards the door and closes it pinching the iconic line from his mentor, ‘Manners Maketh Man’ before swinging a beer mug at the man who humiliated him. The film ends with Eggsy looking at his step dad’s sidekicks who happens to be the same interlopers from the pub scene before as he delivers the line, ‘So are we gonna stand around or are we gonna fight?’.
A flashy antagonist
Playing the villain ‘Valentine’ is Sam Jackson, who resonates well with a teenager who has an affinity towards Day- Glo clothing and dapper looks. Making use of the ubiquitous technology of cellphone his far-fetched plan of luring people into a killing frenzy can only be called a major turning point in the plot that surprises and at times shocks us with its bizarre nature. It is quite hard to design a psycho villain in the first place but with Valentine’s character so beautifully defined, he becomes an instant point in the plot whom we all would want to know more about after the introduction. With the arrival of his enhanced henchman played by Soufia Boutella, Valentine’s preferences and ‘Lex Luther’ like ideologies about running the world becomes more clear.
To top it off, the director has, in fact, made it entirely paradoxical by giving Valentine an inexplicable vulnerability – an aversion to the sight of blood! Triggering mass human killing fests by protecting a herd of elites, Valentine’s gleeful ruthlessness makes Kingsman resonate with outlandish comic book villains who are self-conscious about their looks and style while being obsessed about killing half of humanity. The director’s dexterous thought process has clearly paid off in moulding an apt antagonist for a spy story that has fantasy induced in its veins.
In spite of being playfully unrealistic, Kingsman offers a barrage of action sequences distinguishable from any other action movie to date. What makes the action so involving to the spectators is a question worth answering. Part of the reason for it is because of the director’s firm stand on clarity as opposed to the current trend of action sequences which derives most of its amusement from making too much noise and less sense.
Vaughn has personally agreed to his liking for sports replays. He believes that understanding the geography is key if an action sequence has to have desired effects on its spectators. We have to completely agree here; the coherence of the shots have gone to the extent where Vaughn holds on to the details of showing a man’s tooth flying off after bestowed upon with a powerful punch while focus shifting on to another sideman whose eyeballs follow the tooth with grimace blanketing his face. At times we may not even be able to locate the trajectory the camera takes, as though mounted on the back of a housefly, it loops up, down and around the punches while unfolding the sequence in complete clarity.
The highly orchestrated action sequences are made even more engaging with a verbal prelude from the characters. One such happens when Colin Firth’s character Harry Hart is ogled by a few hooligans at a pub. As he is asked to leave, he takes a step back and locks the pub’s doors while pinching a line from the Oxford College motto ‘Manners Makyth Man’. Delivering the line enhances the sequence to look more like ‘teaching a lesson’ than ‘kicking ass’. Such subtle additions to character development are what makes Kingsman special. While donning the role of the Gladiator, Russell Crowe too made Maximus unforgettable with his hair-raising line, ‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius’, giving most of us a perspective shift that had us rooting for the devastated commander of the North. Such is the power manifested by Harry’s gracefully suited look and morally chiselled personality as he delivers the line before ripping the bullies apart. Proving that he is not to be messed with, we along with Eggsy realize that there is more than a well-stitched suit and nerdy specs to Harry’s otherwise composed personality.
Gadgets – Old school but dapper!
For a spy firm that runs out of a tailor shop, Kingsman never falls short of equipment considered mandatory for a credible spy service. Assimilating its inspiration from James Bond films, Kingsman introduces a handful of state of the art weapons – hidden in mundane objects like umbrellas, rings and even in a pair of classy Oxford shoes. Adding to the well mannered sartorial attires is an umbrella which doubles as a bulletproof shield and as a pistol. Making good use of it at the pub stunt, Galahad swings it around with such dexterity making the umbrella his quintessential choice as a weapon. Matthew Vaughn’s aesthetic sense for dressing up a spy plot with such out of the box toys deserves special appreciation considering the creative ways he has explored to make full use of them.
Galahad’s stunts, besides being violently enjoyable are also orchestrated in a sort of thrilling rhythm that our retinas will follow with pleasure however long the sequence be. Sneaking up with surprises every other minute, the Kingsmen truly proves themselves by revealing an unknown weapon hiding in plain sight, a dexterous movement to render an opponent helpless or even a sleek punch line to gracefully demonstrate the conceit of their existence.
The conceit of Kingsmen may be interpreted as a film that celebrates spy movies across the century. Starting from James Bond to Jason Bourne, whose grim attempts to come across as hardcore espionage centric films, are given tough competition with this semi cartoonish and picturesque canvas on which Kingsmen finds its footing. The transition of a streetwise English brat to a well mannered secret agent delivering near to perfect blows at his opponents’ threads the treatment making the characters unforgettable.
With a story that has included bizarre antagonism and blended it with a clandestine network that produces the best spies, Kingsmen unknowingly opens up a world that clearly begs for sequels. After proving himself as a worthy heir to the throne he is asked to helm, Eggsy is seen as a calm and composed gentleman, a reputation the first half of the movie could not boast about. Eggsy’s transition and peculiar characteristics make him a very strong candidate to bear the lead role in the sequel and that precisely is what we get in the sequel ( A story for another day folks! ).
Kingsman: The Secret Service ends on a fully matured note, starting off with moulding Eggsy’s character to come across as a possible future super spy, a devastating subplot that signals the absence of the people’s favourite – Galahad and a promising combo who assures a return in sequels comprising of Merlin ad Eggsy. The ending supersedes our expectations of looking at the film as a one-off by craft fully adding the scene where Eggsy comes back to meet his mother, flaunting his newly found charisma and smiling with composure as he gleefully confronts his stepdad. The scene clarifies all suspicions we the spectators may have about Eggsy’s professional competence. By the end of the scene, we will surely redefine Eggsy’s character with it sounding much like Galahad’s, Eggsy matures into his mentor – a sleek, well-mannered gentleman with suave. Assimilating qualities that most young men aspire to make a part of their personality, Eggsy inspires us in a commanding manner to recheck on our choices of etiquettes. A much-needed character for the millennials. Eggsy sure uses his screen presence to lure us into his universe where good triumphs evil – a formula that fits into any time frame with capabilities to excite people within any age group.
Kingsman: The secret service, commandeers the top position of 2016’s spy movies. With its flamboyant approach towards the narrative, eclectic set of characters, experimental concepts and beautifully orchestrated action – promises us with a new visual language that is sure to induce jolts of excitement. Revamping the classic British Spy genre with careful attention given to minute details of the narrative, it proves to be a refreshing treat for our Bond/Bourne clogged retinas. With Kingsman 3 in development, let us hope that the film brings back to screen the electrifying energy of the first instalment and more crazed villains and hybrid henchmen. If you haven’t given this franchise a chance yet, then dear friend! let me end by quoting the ever-volatile Galahad, ‘Manners Maketh Man’…..’Watch this movie and thou shall be spared!’.