Kingsman: The Secret Agent (2014) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4) : Prim and violent

kingsman05“Kingsman: The Secret Agent” is an over-the-top spy action film going wildly between casual ultra-violence and occasional self-conscious humor. It is prim and violent while giving us a little wink with its self-aware attitude, but I only observed its story and characters from the distance as mildly entertained by a handful of amusing moments to notice and talk about.

Its story is about how Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (newcomer Taron Egerton) is suddenly drawn into the hidden world of secret agents he never imagined before. When this bright but problematic lad gets himself into a serious trouble with the local police on another day of his unhappy and hopeless working-class daily life, he uses a phone number left to him after his father’s death a long time ago, and that is how he comes to encounter Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a man who knew Eggsy’s father as his recruiter and also sees the same potential inside Eggsy.

Not long after their first meeting which is ended rather inconveniently at a local bar, Eggsy becomes one of the young candidates to fill the position of a recently diseased member in the secret agency named “The Kingsmen”, and we get some bits of background information about this powerful clandestine agency whose headquarter is hidden inside a posh tailor shop located somewhere in London. Thanks to its enormous wealth, the agency is equipped with many various gadgets and vehicles which would impress James Bond, and Hart and other agents have handled many secret operations for keeping the world safe while not getting noticed by ordinary people. Headed by Arthur (Michael Caine), they have operated under the code names from the Arthurian tale, and they all wear prim business suits and special glasses, which make it a little too difficult for us to distinguish one from another when we see them during their meeting.

kingsman04While Hart, called Galahad in his agency, investigates who is behind the murder of their recently diseased member, Eggsy and other candidates go through a number of harsh tests from which only one candidate will emerge as a new Kingsmen agent, and Merlin (Mark Strong), who has worked as a technician/trainer after retiring from his field work, always knows how to surprise his trainees at unexpected moments. At one point, he suddenly fills the trainees’ bunk room with water in the middle of one night just for testing their quick response for survival, and that is just the beginning of what they will have to endure under Merlin’s crafty supervision.

As Eggsy is approaching to his possible success step by step, Hart’s ongoing investigation leads to his discovery of a conspiracy masterminded by Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a megalomaniac billionaire who recently gets more attention on the media thanks to his free distribution of mobile phone SIM cards all over the world. Valentine is usually accompanied with his henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), and she has a very nasty way of using her metal prosthetic legs which can be utilized as swift lethal weapons to slash or slice her opponents.

While Eggsy eventually gets involved into Hart’s operation and then tries to save the world along with a few people he can trust, the movie often pokes fun at spy movies in knowing ways. While that famous James Bond movie cliché is mentioned during one scene, the climax part features your typical secret base where everything is almost ready for Valentine to enjoy the final step of his diabolical plan, and we even have a big red digital readout to generate more suspense as Eggsy and others race against the time during the climax part.

kingsman06There are a number of action sequences which remorselessly brandish ultra-violence with no inhibition, and the director Matthew Vaughn, who previously directed “Kick-Ass” (2010) and “X-Men: First Class” (2011), makes them look quick, slick, and brutal through his stylish approach. During one sequence unfolded within some backward American church, the movie gets itself pumped up once its button is literally hit, and then it strikes us with a long, rapid series of violent shots as the characters on the screen are driven into savage embroilment. Not so surprisingly, the climax part is supplied with plenty of extras to be killed off like video game characters, and it culminates into one loony moment which uses Sir Edward William Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” in an outrageously sensational way to be appreciated by late Ken Russell. As a matter of fact, this moment is so outrageous that the final showdown scene looks pretty tame in comparison.

Looking as suave and sophisticated as we can expect from him, Colin Firth comfortably fits into his unflappable character, and Taron Egerton is a nice counterpart to Firth as a young brash hero in the need of some extra polish for looking and talking like a model upper-class British superspy. While Mark Strong has a fun with his wily, resourceful supporting character, Michael Caine brings authority and experience to his small role, and Sophie Cookson is competent as a female recruit who is nicer to Eggsy than other snobbish recruits. In case of Samuel L. Jackson, he throws himself into a full campy mode as relishing or chewing every scene of his, and I must say he frequently looks as ridiculous as some of lesser Bond movie villains.

“Kingsman: The Secret Agent” is based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. While I am not familiar with Millar’s works, I have seen two movies based on his comic book works, and “The Kingsman: The Secret Agent” is somewhere between “Wanted” (2008) and “Kick-Ass”. While the movie is less uncomfortable than “Kick-Ass”, it is not as entertaining as “Wanted”, and I am reluctant about recommending it. As a parody, it is not fun enough for me while sometimes bothering me with its sexist aspect. As a spy action movie, it does not bring anything particularly new to its genre in the era of countless cases of hyperkinetic CGI action. It is a well-made product with some class provided by Firth, but I am not that impressed.

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