Let it be noted that, on Valentine’s weekend, 2015, onto screens strutted two flicks starring coiffed, bespoke-suited men loaded with bling, money and power—but while Christian Grey’s into BDSM, Harry Hart’s only into the S. And that lusting addiction to cartoonish carnage drags Kingsman: The Secret Service down.
In this Young James Bond, going for style points, not storycraft, Kingsman’s Hart, aka “Galahad” (Colin Firth), makes amends for a colleague getting killed on his watch by nominating, years later, the agent’s delinquent son Eggsy (Taron Egerton) for entry to the organization. But the bright colours and sketched characters of a comic (the movie adapts Mark Millar’s 2012 series) aren’t toned down. Hart’s haughty world is all King’s Speech-gentleman’s club, while Eggsy’s South London is broadly kitchen-sink Nil By Mouth. The class-divisions subtext is mostly reduced to Eggsy’s Oxbridge competitors for the one Kingsman spot at training-school acting like Little Lord Snottleroys; Hart’s My Fair Lad notion that a gentleman’s made, not born, seems stupid considering Eggsy only got his chance because of who his dad was and Hart’s gilt-edged guilt.
Kingsman is best when having some fun with Bond tropes, from Internet-billionaire super-villain Valentine (Samuel Jackson, scheming with a faint Mike Tyson-esque lisp) to his henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella, springing along on slice-and-dice prostheses). There are some slick, sharp cuts, not to mention a breathlessly suspenseful sky-jumping scene. Still, the super-spy silliness can (think Moonraker) make scant sense. Hart’s never competent in a mission, while the cautionary tech-plot is contradicted by all the gizmos and gadgets that the camera and Eggsy ooh and aah at (Eggsy even, like Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love, gets to use a retractable shoe spike).
Worst are the caricatured-Tarantino massacres: a drawn-out slaughter in a church; triggered neck-implants exploding people’s heads like firework-founts of blood-and-brain. (This indulgent excess recalls Millar’s Kick-Ass.) By the end, when Kingsman and Eggsy ignore his sweet co-agent Roxy, preferring to smirkingly snog a rescued Swedish princess “in the butt,” the movie’s out-sexismed Roger Moore-era 007 at its smarmiest and smuggest. Lesson learned—cock-of-the-walk dickishness knows no class bounds.