The Avengers (1998) (the movie based on the 60’s British TV show not Disney/Marvels behemoth) should have been fantastic. It looked good, Ralph Fiennes was good casting as John Steed, Uma Thurman looked the part as Emma Peel, and Sean Connery seemed to be an inspired choice as the villain. Unfortunately it just fell flat in every conceivable way. So why does Kingsman: The Secret Service succeed in every way that The Avengers failed? I am not entirely sure. Everything just works, even the things that shouldn’t.
It is both fun and funny. It is as much a homage to James Bond as a parody of it. Most surprising is how violent it is and how it manages a level of levity throughout the brutality. The centre of the story is Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin played by a virtually unknown actor Taron Egerton. His chav to gentlemen spy transformation is nothing we haven’t seen before but works because of the charisma of the actor. His mentor Harry Hart aka Galahad (Colin Firth) could have carried a film on his own, and at times does. Perfectly played by Firth, he is the perfect blend of James Bond, Jason Bourne, with just a little bit of Ethan Hunt, George Smiley and Harry Palmer. Perfectly turned out his double breasted Savile Row suite, he makes his character in A Single Man look positively underdressed.
Not afraid to name-check James Bond, or any other character in the genre, the film needs an over the top villain with an insane plan. Harry even tells us a movie is “only as good as the villain”. Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine fits the bill perfectly as does his henchman woman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Valentine’s plan goes beyond anything seen in Bond and Gazelle’s method of killing is more theatrical than Jaws or Oddjob.
As perfect as the cast is, the real success of the film is in the script. Director Matthew Vaughn is joined by his usual collaborator Jane Goldman, between them they have the magic ability to know how far over the line they can go and get away with it. There are certainly moments that will divide opinion. There are scenes that rival Hit-Girl’s language in Kick-Ass for controversy. How does it get away with it? Mainly because it is such good fun, possibly even more fun than Guardians of the Galaxy.
While The Avengers is best forgotten, Kingsman is the first must see film of the year.