Samuel L. Jackson is considered the biggest box-office draw of all time. The movies he has starred in (which include multiple “Star Wars” and Marvel projects) have grossed nearly $6 billion.
If there’s any justice, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” will further balloon his revenue numbers. This outrageous spy adventure delivers an enormous amount of giddy entertainment on a budget the filmmakers describe as “about one-third the size of ‘Skyfall.’” The result is a movie that is equal parts parody, homage, rip-off and middle-finger salute to the James Bond genre.
In the tradition of the best Bond pics, success hinges on the villains.
Embellished with hip-hop gear and a speech impediment, Jackson amusingly portrays Valentine, a tech billionaire/philanthropist/megalomaniac with a radical idea of how to halt climate change. His loyal henchman is the henchwoman Gazelle (Algerian dancer Sofia Boutella), who sports prosthetic lower legs sharpened into decapitating blades.
Hoping to foil their evil plot is an “independent international intelligence agency” called Kingsman. The shadowy group’s front is the Kingsman tailor shop, makers of impeccable suits (bulletproof, we learn). With only a few slots available on their lifelong, code-named roster, Galahad (Oscar winner Colin Firth) suggests a recruit to fill the hole left by a murdered agent.
The umbrella-toting Englishman explains, “The suit is the modern gentlemen’s armor, and the Kingsman are the new knights.”
At first Eggsy (newcomer Taron Egerton, who looks like a younger, more handsome Seth MacFarlane) seems a terrible fit. A working-class London slacker whose father was a former Kingsman, Eggsy must vie with a handful of better-bred recruits to endure what they’re told is “the most dangerous job interview in the world.”
It should be noted that this ranks among the most violent movies ever made. Sure, there are “torture-porn” horror flicks or documentaries featuring real war footage or “The Passion of the Christ” that probably eclipse the brutality here. But for a mainstream adventure with a jokey vibe, nothing comes close to the graphic garishness with which filmmaker Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class”) coats the screen.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in a lingering sequence at a fundamentalist church in Kentucky. Valentine’s high-tech weapon causes the congregation to go into a homicidal rage, and Firth’s Kingsman stuck within the fray utilizes his lethal skills to dispatch the rednecks. Scored (for some reason) to the sounds of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” the grisly chaos unfolds in simulated one-take choreography a la the Korean revenge thriller “Oldboy” as if shot by Sam Raimi.
More significantly, it’s something that would never happen in a Bond blockbuster. Those of limited imagination will likely complain “Kingsman” is cribbing from the 007 franchise. But it’s really subverting it at every turn. Whenever the movie seems to be traveling somewhere familiar, the screenplay by Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman warps it with glee.
The only parts that border on too familiar are the training scenes involving Kingsman candidates. We’ve seen a lot of these indoctrinating mind games already in “Ender’s Game” and Vaughn’s own retro “X-Men.” It’s harder to trick the audience when we’ve been primed to assume everything is a trick.
The rest of the movie (loosely based on the 2012 comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons) fares better. Like the jaw-dropping entrance of Hit-Girl in Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass,” this film concocts a number of equivalent can’t-believe-that-happened moments. Whether they overrun the boundaries of good taste is certainly debatable.
But it’s not all shock and awe. The subversion comes in subtle, meta ways. For instance, the 2012 comic book opens with an environmental scientist named Mark Hamill being abducted by thugs and taken to a remote wintry cabin. The movie features this same scene, but the scientist is called James Arnold. Only here he’s played by “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill.
Get it? “Kingsman” sure does.
‘KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE’
Rated R | Time: 2:09