The idea of updating James Bond and making him a younger character has been done before – witness the Alex Cross films and even Jason Bourne. Matthew Vaughan’s attempt, with a script by Jane Goldman, could have worked in theory, but it doesn’t, because of disastrous shifts in tone, and dreadfully cynical product placements. Director Vaughan seems to have become so carried away with his Kick-Ass franchise that he has transposed the idea to Britain, but used pretty much the same formula. The result leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth, which is a shame, because there are a few strengths on display here.
The basic plot is the usual stuff about an evil mastermind planning on taking over the world – here Samuel L. Jackson, who dials it in with a ludicrous lisp and a plot to gain world domination via free sim cards for everyone. He must be stopped, and the only people who can are the Kingsman, a secret service formed from the money never inherited after the First World War, with the team led by Michael Caine. Its frontman, Colin Firth, spots a young boy who he thinks will make perfect agent material, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a council estate lad whose dad served with Firth in some unnamed Middle Eastern operation. Eggsy has troubles of his own, being bullied by the local gang, and his mum is being abused by her boyfriend, but Firth puts him into a training camp with lots of posh boys and girls where only one will become a Kingsman.
The basic idea here is fine, it’s the execution that fails spectacularly, mainly due to Goldman’s script. Having Firth as a super-cool agent dispatching Eggsy’s enemies in a grubby pub with his umbrella is quite funny – although we’ve seen it all before of course in The Avengers – but having him carve up a bunch of religious loony-tunes in slow motion is both tedious and borderline offensive. Even worse is the disgraceful product placement throughout – we get Firth enjoying a “delicious pint of Guinness”, he and Jackson dining on Chateau Talbot 47 and Big Macs – which makes Firth “happy” – and when Eggsy is kitted out we get huge close-ups of his watch and shoes.
No doubt Vaughan and Goldman will refer to the cartoon nature of the violence – how can anyone take offence at Jack Davenport being sliced in half with not a drop of blood – but it’s inconsistent in tone. The whole thing might have worked if it had been aimed firmly at a young teen market, but it’s far too violent and adult for that, with references to anal sex and Firth “taking a shit”. It’s almost unnecessary to add too that it’s way, way too long, with a final action sequence that seems to go on for days.
Overall verdict: An idea which could have worked fails because of wild variations in tone and mood and way too much comic book violence. There is plenty of talent on show here, it’s such a shame it wasn’t put to much better use than this weird Bond rip-off. Everyone involved will have better days.
Reviewer: Mike Martin