Review: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn, 2015)

by Jason Suzuki

Matthew Vaughn’s latest adaptation of a Mark Miller comic book is Pygmalion meets James Bond. What they’ve created is a fun and violent presentation of the idea that you don’t always have to bound to your current station in life. It’s My Fair Lady with the morbid sense of humor that film needed but without Audrey Hepburn and the musical numbers; so it’s not entirely perfect.

To briefly fill in the gaps of the synopsis that the Pygmalion/Bond equation leaves: Harry Hart (Colin Firth) works for a spy organization and decides to give a chance to street kid Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to become a Kingsman. While the training sequences commence, we are introduced to billionaire villain Valentine (scene stealing Samuel Jackson with scene stealing lisp) who is a Steve Jobs-esque technology giant who is putting the gears in motion for global genocide. Michael Caine once again plays Michael Caine, and Kick-Ass villain Mark Strong comes back as a hero this time, and Sofia Boutella as Gazelle (her blade feet featured in the poster above) will produce as much fan-art as Jackson’s performance produces fun.

One of the film’s standout set pieces is not only an extended fight scene inside of a church but also social catharsis more on the safe side. The set up for the scene is Valentine is testing his world destroying device on a target that no one would really miss: a crowded church of the Westboro Baptist variety. Harry Hart follows this lead, knowing this church has been targeted by Valentine but doesn’t know why. Once Valentine sets off the signal that raises aggression and lowers inhibition, the setting for a hate sermon becomes the setting for an all out bloodbath. The sequence is visceral thanks to the “one-take” set up, Firth’s eruption of violence, and Skynard’s “Free Bird”. For a movie that prides itself on its “middle-finger virtues” it’s a shame, a minor one, that it takes on such an easy target. It’s just as cathartic as the revisionist history in the last few Tarantino films, meaning not so much. Again, this is just a minor qualm, but if French satirical newspapers and Danish cartoonists can’t point out certain hypocrisies, we can’t really expect Hollywood to even make the attempt. Wouldn’t it be great to see Colin Firth go on an ass-kicking spree in order to stop a stoning? It would still have to be set to “Free Bird” though.

Something implied by the film is that when it comes to our world leaders, they would gladly sell us all out in order to secure a place on the upper-class Noah’s bunker, drinking champagne while we tear each other apart. It gives credence to Eggsy’s suspicions of the upper class but it shows that humanity is worth saving from those who decide on its fate only from their skyscraper vantage points. It is also worth saving if it means anal sex with a princess, apparently.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.