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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Twists and turns propel taut espionage thriller

"Kingsman: The Secret Service"

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

A group of terrorists hold an environmental scientist against his will, threatening to subject him to torture unless he pledges his loyalty to their employer. Before they can do so, an enigmatic British secret agent takes down the ringleader and proceeds to kill the others one by one. But the mission is brought to an abrupt end when the agent is cut down by a female assassin with a hidden agenda that would endanger the lives of millions of people.

From this fast-paced opening sequence, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” creates a world that channels the works of espionage authors such as Ian Fleming, the creator of the “James Bond” series, and John le Carre, whose career with the British intelligence services inspired him to create the sphinxlike emissary George Smiley. Based on the 2012 comic book series created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the movie stars Academy Award–winning actor Colin Firth as secret agent Harry Hart, who juggles recruiting devil-may-care street kid Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) into the titular intelligence organization and connecting the death of a fellow agent to lisping megalomaniac Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson).

Reminiscent of the “James Bond” franchise, “Kingsman” successfully satisfies viewers with the usual quota of beautiful love interests, high-tech gadgets and psychopathic industrialists bent on world domination while allowing them to see how future intelligence officers are culled and trained. Although multiplex, the variety of field exercises Eggsy and his fellow candidates undergo prove to be a powerful experience, making the audience members feel as if they are being forced to endure each individual drill. The same can also be said for the numerous plot twists, which move the main plot forward in a well-written way while leaving viewers shocked until the very last scene.

Firth and Jackson are, without a doubt, the film’s most compelling forces, adding depth to the stereotypes commonly associated with the spy genre, primarily the reclusive supervillain and the quintessential British gentleman. While Valentine’s master plan is eerily similar to the one conceived in the 1979 “James Bond” film, “Moonraker,” which involves a billionaire determined to destroy life on Earth and rebuild humanity with a master race, Jackson manages to create a believable character who has a defined set of priorities and a strong aversion to blood and guts. Firth, meanwhile, continues to captivate audiences with stellar acting, a trait that keeps the main plot going in several instances, especially when Hart reveals that he regrets not being able to save Eggsy’s father, a fellow Kingsman agent who died in the line of duty prior to the main action of the film. Though their characters don’t initially see eye to eye, Firth and Egerton provide an exciting setup with dramatic potency that can be found in every scene.

There are only two minute flaws within the world of “Kingsman” that are inconsequential to the film as a whole. The first is the unexpected overuse of violence, which comes across as slightly forced on the part of rising director Matthew Vaughn, particularly during a key scene in which Hart takes on the members of an obscure Midwestern hate group while being controlled by Valentine’s new SIM card. The second is the strong lack of character development found in Valentine’s henchwoman, Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a skilled assassin and double amputee with weaponized prosthetic legs that can cut down anything, and anyone, standing in her way. She is, at first blush, a loyal servant who takes great pleasure in inflicting pain on others, but the absence of a backstory and a line delivery that almost appears to be robotic makes Gazelle come across as a character who has zero personality outside of her many interactions with Valentine. Much like Ronan the Accuser in last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it feels as though the script gave all the good material to the main cast and left nothing for Gazelle.

Despite these minor faults, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is still a film that is worth seeing. Both cast and crew work in synchronization to fill every scene with thrills while ensuring that not a single audience member gets tired of looking at the screen. The film is bound to leave viewers at the edge of their seats from start to finish as they embark on a roller coaster ride that proves to be a welcome addition to a market that is dominated by Bonds and Bournes.