Movie review: Colin Firth's Kingsman is no ordinary spy movie

Funny, violent and gory, the good guys in Kingsman die too

Review Action-comedy

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (M18)

129 minutes/Opens tomorrow/****1/2

The story: Young Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a lad from a working-class neighbourhood, is the son of a secret agent killed in the line of duty. As a favour to his dead father, senior agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) offers him a chance to become a spy - as long as he passes the arduous training. Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is the only female trainee in the group and is a strong competitor. Meanwhile, billionaire idealist Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) announces a plan to give the world free mobile phone service.

The exhilarating ride that is Kingsman leaves this reviewer with one question: Why is director Matthew Vaughn so criminally under-recognised?

With a resume that includes Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011), he keeps proving himself to be a writer, producer and director with a gift for turning comic books into movies that lose none of the source material's freshness.

A key element of that freshness is his willingness to explore violence for cinematic effect.

Here, there are two scenes in which dozens of people die.

The first scene of carnage takes place in a militantly right-wing church of the sort that will remind viewers of Westboro Baptist, the anti-gay group that pickets funerals.

In the church, there is a delicious grab at revenge-by-fiction, targeting a group liberals love to hate.

The same sentiment propels the massacre that caps the movie, but Vaughn never lets a storytelling moment go to waste.

He inserts Hong Kong-style visual poetry and slapstick in these gory, drawn-out bits of death pornography.

This is in contrast to more kid-friendly action fare, in which scores of people expire off-camera, or in unmemorable, blood-free ways.

Still, debates about violence will rage on about the violence, as it did about Kick-Ass, which also brought Tarantino-like levels of brutality to comic-book movies.

There is also fun to be had watching quintessentially British actors Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine - men who have played memorable gentlemen spies - spoofing themselves. The more intense the emotion, the stiffer the upper lip.

Like many Tarantino acolytes working in London and Hollywood, Vaughn enjoys winking at genre conventions - in this case, spy gadgets, villains wielding bizarre weapons and the Karate Kid-style coming-of-age narrative.

But more importantly, he uses them fairly. For example, there is never the scene where a mysterious force field around the good guy causes a legion of henchmen to miss every shot.

Good guys die, suddenly and without foreshadowing, telling you in the best possible way that this is no ordinary spy movie.

johnlui@sph.com.sg