Kingsman: The Secret Service appears to be a reaction to the seriousness of modern spy films, the film happily embracing the goofier elements of early Bond films and their ilk. It is about dapper English gentlemen employing a variety of gadgets disguised as everyday objects to defeat a mad villain with some elaborate plan that will result in the deaths of millions. It is a worthy goal, but the film brings along with it some of the ugly baggage of those films as well. While often fun, the crass, at times infantile outlook makes the movie hard to love.
Eggsy (Taron Eggerton) is a young man living in London who doesn't seem to have much of a future. But then Harry Hart (Colin Firth) bails him out of jail one day, and recruits him to be Kingsman. The Kingsmen are a private, independent spy service dedicated to protecting the world. Eggsy doesn't fit the mold of the average Kingsman, but Hart believes that he has it in him to be a great agent. While Eggsy goes through training, Hart investigates the mysterious circumstances behind the death of another agent, and that leads him to the door of tech billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who has a bizarre plan to save the world from global warming.
The idea is that even James Bond has gotten too serious. The film seeks to be remedy to that situation, providing a new set of spies dressed in suits and wielding fountain pens that are actually weapons. It also provides a mad, world-destroying villain with a henchwoman that uses blades in her prosthetic limbs to cut people in two. The film is mostly fun when it plays in that milieu, bringing those ideas to a modern context with beautifully produced action set pieces. There are a lot of visually gripping long takes in this movie, most of them involving the characters inflicting harm on other people.
But the fun does have its limits. The film’s shaggy runtime can test one’s patience. There’s so much time spent in the relatively sedate environment of Eggsy’s training. The road to turning him into a superspy involves a lot of sequences that don’t really matter a whole lot in the end. And the overall silliness of the picture can’t support the length. Within all that time, the film isn’t able to produce a single female character worth caring about. And in the end, its platonic ideal for a hero seems to be just white people in suits. There are actually some noxious themes in this movie if one afforded any real thought into it. It’s just that it isn’t really worth it.
To the film’s credit, it makes it pretty easy to just outright ignore those shortcomings. It’s all very slickly produced, with gorgeous sets and costumes constructing a really defined vision of the world. It also benefits greatly from the formidable presence of Colin Firth. This is a pretty silly role, but Firth brings a quiet intensity to his performance that gives depth to the character. Taron Eggerton is an okay enough lead, but this role doesn’t really call for much. Samuel L. Jackson is pretty entertaining as the film’s villain, even as he piles on the affectations.
If Kingsman: The Secret Service was maybe ten to fifteen minutes shorter, it would be a whole lot easier to recommend. At that length, it’s just easier to give the film a pass for some of its more questionable content. But in its current state, it’s issuing thematic checks that it can’t really cash. There’s a lot of fun to be had here: the problem is that the movie gives you too much time to think about what it all means.