‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ shakes up spy genre, reviews say

Sharp suits? Check. High-tech gadgets? Check. Acrobatic femme fatale with blades for feet? Uh, check.

Filmmaker Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” has arrived to shake up (not stir) the spy-film subgenre with a wink, a nod and plenty of violence. According to reviews, the Colin Firth and Taron Egerton-starring film is largely successful, if occasionally too gory.

The Times’ Betsy Sharkey calls “Kingsman” a “dry, wry sendup of the 007 world” and adds, “Directed by [Vaughn] with slightly more vigor than necessary and a shade less restraint than needed, it’s a bit too too to be ‘brilliant,’ as the Brits say. But it’s not half bad either.”

If Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s script “doesn’t always hit its mark,” it’s “at times wickedly witty, having fun not just with spies but the British obsession with social class. If you can forgive the failings for at least some of the two-plus-hour running time, ‘Kingsman’ serves up its share of entertaining froth.”


The Boston Globe’s Tom Russo says the film is “a youth-quaking riff bursting with affection for vintage 007 action and urbanity, yet one that feels wholly organic in the way it goes about selling this appreciation to a younger crowd.” It also establishes Vaughn as “one of the edgier and more underrated genre voices of the moment,” Firth as an unlikely action hero and Egerton as a promising newcomer with “eye-opening charisma.”

The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan says that much like the odd couple of Egerton’s hoodlum and Firth’s gentleman, “Kingsman” is also “a mix of the juvenile and the sophisticated. … It’s both a sharp send-up of spy movies and a silly celebration of action movie cliches in the Quentin Tarantino mold.”

The plot, O’Sullivan adds, is “at once ridiculous and smart,” and as for the copious violence, “most of it is bloodless and surprisingly balletic. … It’s more comedic than disturbing.”

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis disagrees, however, suggesting that only the bloodthirstiest moviegoers will enjoy the film. She writes, “as this bludgeoning movie grinds to a halt, its gears clogged by viscera and narrative overkill, even those who enjoy go-go gore may end up yearning for the soft touch and subtleties of Guy Ritchie.”

The problem, Dargis says, is that “Vaughn has no interest in, or perhaps understanding of, violence as a cinematic tool. He doesn’t use violence; he squanders it. Some directors overdo it with crane shots, close-ups and dissolves, but Mr. Vaughn gorges on splatter, splashing rooms with red until it’s the only color and emotional note left.”

The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips agrees, writing, “If you don’t like the way the action’s handled in an action movie, you are in trouble, and that’s where I was with ‘Kingsman’ from the moment a metal-footed henchwoman (Sofia Boutella) scissor-kicked through the air and sliced an adversary in half. Those pulled into the theater based on vague marketing promises of a classy espionage lark starring familiar English faces may wonder what hit them.”

Phillips adds, “I find the jocularity of Vaughn’s gamer-style violence a drag. The sudden slo-mo; the flurry of anonymous kills, painlessly brutal but cumulatively numbing: After an hour I wanted some visual clarity and something more than a few jokes about the tropes of the spy movie genre.”

But many critics say it’s all in good fun, among them USA Today’s Claudia Puig. She writes that Vaugh’s film “cleverly juxtaposes absurdly crazy mayhem with the trappings of classic British decorum. Its blend of breathless action with Brit irreverence is like James Bond skipping the martinis and lacing a proper cup of tea with crack.”

Even Agent 007 would concede that’s something you don’t see every day.

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