Let’s get it out of the way: The new spy fantasy “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is gleefully un-P.C., ready to throw a satirical elbow at every politically-correct piety that crosses its path. It’s particularly rough on the Church of Global Warming and Malthusian “humanity is a virus” environmentalism. Yes, the rumors you might have heard about a certain prominent left-wing political figure cheerfully throwing in with supervillain Samuel L. Jackson’s insanely murderous plot are true. If your favorite liberal paper is giving this movie anything less than five stars, that’s probably why, even if they won’t openly admit it.
Make no mistake, this is a five-star movie. “Kingsman” is one of the most deliriously entertaining films to come along in years, finely-tailored with top-shelf action sequences that will draw a few gasps of surprise from audiences who thought themselves jaded by visual spectacle in the CGI era, and neatly accessorized with witty dialogue delivered by a uniformly excellent cast. Enough with the tailoring metaphors — there’s some terrific literal tailoring on offer, as well. You’re going to want a bespoke suit after seeing this, gentlemen, even before your date tells you how great she thinks you’d look in one.
A word of warning is in order: as with just about everything else smashed by the deconstructionist wrecking-ball pen of Mark Millar, who wrote the graphic novel source material, “Kingsman” is also deliriously violent. A certain sequence midway through the film — you’ll know it when you get there — might be the most violent scene ever filmed. This is the kind of movie that makes exploding heads funny.
The ultra-violence, and the giddy defiance of political orthodoxy, serve a purpose. “Kingsman” manages the neat trick of being a satire of spy fantasies in the classic 007 mold, and one of the best examples of such a movie ever made. The characters actually discuss their love of classic sixties spy adventures during the movie, bringing up genre tropes and lovingly modeling them for the audience before smashing them to pieces, like a child shattering a snow-globe to get at the little city inside. It even borrows the essentials of its plot from one of the least popular Bond films.
The other purpose animating the punk sensibility lying beneath the elegantly-tailored exterior of this film is a discourse on the nature of elitism. Liberals fuming over the mean things this movie has to say about global-warming extremists are missing an even more devastating point it makes about the way birthright, inheritance, and wealth are not the measure of a gentleman. Any man can aspire to that status, if he adopts the proper habits of mind and manner.
“Kingsman” makes no bones about holding the true gentleman forward as a model everyone should aspire to, the highest refinement of civilization. Every antagonist in the film is guilty of abandoning that noble code — sometimes in obvious matters of dress and deportment, sometimes more subtly. Samuel Jackson’s character is perfectly designed as the antithesis of everything the Kingsmen stand for. You really don’t want to live in a world run by people like him, assuming he lets you live in it.
(Incidentally, our venerable and refined Kingsman spy agency would never consider mangling the English language to drop the phrase “gentleman,” but there clearly isn’t a drop of “sexism” in their veins, because they don’t hesitate to recruit young women to their organization as well. Some of them do have a problem with snobbery, however, and we get to enjoy watching them work it out.)
The plot is simple enough to follow, which is important for a script that wants the audience to feel genuinely surprised by the twists and turns thrown their way. Our hero, Eggsy, is a young man from the wrong side of the tracks in London, whose father died under mysterious circumstances while working for a top-secret trans-national spy agency that comes off as a cross between a Masonic cult and a superhero vigilante squad, founded after the bloody chaos of World War I by a group of wealthy men who doubted the ability of corrupt, politicized, bureaucratic governments to hold the bad actors of the world at bay. (Feel free to shout “They were right!” before continuing with the review.)
Eggsy is invited to apply for membership — which is no guarantee of actually becoming a Kingsman, mind you, because the training process is hilariously brutal, with the goal of producing a tiny cadre of superhumanly competent and reliable agents, armed with the kind of crazy spy technology Daniel Craig sadly doesn’t bother with any more. His mentor in the ways of both espionage and courtly manners is an utterly delightful senior spy played by Colin Firth, who nobody ever expected to see in a role like this, but hopefully he does more of them. The scene in which Firth and his young charge agree that the whole affair is basically “My Fair Lady” with spies is one of the many witty exchanges between them.
Of course, Eggsy’s training goes awry, and of course he’s thrown into action against a world-beating menace that only he can stop, because that’s what we expect from stories like this. The screenwriters know it — hell, the characters know it, and discuss it among themselves — so they give us what we need to make the story familiar, and then blow it to smithereens in our faces. It’s a slick exercise in genre subversion, made by people who love the genre, so they’re careful to put it back together again once they finish taking it apart and tinkering with its internals.
The result is an eye-popping good time, and the precise opposite of the direction the spy movie has been taking with Daniel Craig’s dour and gritty Bond films. I’ve greatly enjoyed those films and Craig’s take on the classic super-spy, and I’m looking forward to the next installment, but I think I’d be looking forward to another “Kingsman” movie just a little bit more.