Ever since the 20th Century Fox panel at the 2014 Comic Con in July featured Matthew Vaughn’s upcoming film, “Kingsman: the Secret Service,” starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Samuel L. Jackson, social media and the popular press has been abuzz with speculation, and the question at the tip of every tweeter’s tongue has been: since when is Colin Firth an action hero? After months of anticipation, debates over the film’s supposed hyper-violence, and teasing trailers featuring Firth displaying an impressive set of stunt skills with—of all things—a weaponized umbrella, all questions were finally put to rest this past weekend with the film’s release. Take a look:
The story, based on the 2012 comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, tells of a secret, gentleman spy organization and how Harry Hart (Colin Firth) works to train a troubled-but-promising street boy, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to work for the organization. As a debt of honor to Eggsy’s father, who had been a part of the organization and had lost his life to save Hart’s, Hart rescues the boy from a life of petty crime to mentor and train him. At the same time, the world is under threat from the villainous Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a comically-twisted tech genius hell-bent on destroying the planet.
With film-producing credits like “X-Men: First Class” (2011) and “Kick-Ass” (2010) to his name, Matthew Vaughn clearly knows his genre and his audience well. At once hilarious and hair-raising, the film both satirizes and pays homage to the spy films of the 1960s and 70s; indeed, several scenes in which Hart and Valentine casually and comically converse about the genre, referencing such touchstones as the iconic James Bond movies, might just as easily be Firth and Jackson nostalgically reminiscing about such films. For me, the scenes involving Hart and Valentine were some of the most rewarding to watch; there is something deeply satisfying about seeing two seasoned actors at the top of their game facing off against one another and clearly enjoying every minute of it. The action sequences, which have raised a few concerned debates about hyper-violence, are no more than one would expect from a film of this genre; the weaponized umbrellas, explosives inconspicuously imbedded in a gentleman’s ring, and heads exploding spectacularly to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” are all just tricks of the trade in the world of comic book heroes and gentleman spies.
Firth and Egerton have incredible screen chemistry, the mentor/mentee relationship between long-time actor Firth and newly-rising star Egerton lending a layer of realistically tender authenticity to the almost father-son bond that Hart and Eggsy form. Egerton shines brilliantly amidst the likes of Firth, Jackson, Mark Strong, and Michael Caine. Aside from the impressive action sequences, Firth’s role is not as much a departure from his usual work as speculation has led us to believe, for Hart’s character is deeply rooted in the trope of the English gentleman that often times seems as much Firth himself as the characters he portrays.
Vaughn has masterfully assessed his audience with this film, casting a wide enough net to ensure that there would be something for everyone to enjoy—especially on an intensely competitive box-office opening weekend, when the date-night entertainment tossup was a choice between “Kingsman” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” While Vaughn’s latest film scored second in the President’s Weekend box-office total (with $42 million compared to “Fifty Shades’s” $94.4 million), it earned considerably more than “Kick-Ass,” which took in an estimated $19 million on opening weekend according to Entertainment Weekly’s latest report. Comic book and espionage film enthusiasts will appreciate both the action and satire of the genre, and Colin Firth fans will applaud his seamless transitioning between bespoke-suited gentleman and action hero. All in all, a well-rewarded wait for a much-anticipated movie.