Kingsman: The Secret Service Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Rated R. Opens Friday.
If you’re wondering who might be the next serious actor over 50 to unexpectedly become an action star, apparently it’s Colin Firth. In Kingsman: The Secret Service, the onetime Mr. Darcy stars as a dapper spy code-named Galahad, who looks impeccable in a bespoke suit and can also take down a room full of bad guys without breaking a sweat.
Firth’s stereotypically British stiff-upper-lip-ness is part of the movie’s humor, its rather tiresome pseudo-subversion of the classic spy genre. Kingsman is director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn’s second collaboration with comic-book writer Mark Millar, after 2010’s Kick-Ass, although unlike Kick-Ass, which stuck fairly close to its source material, Kingsman is only a very loose adaptation of Millar’s and artist Dave Gibbons’ The Secret Service.
That means it tones down some of Millar’s typical sneering misanthropy, but it’s still a mostly empty exercise in stylistic posturing. Like Kick-Ass, it’s a juvenile power fantasy for a vulgar young man—in this case, a street tough known as Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who’s recruited by Galahad to join super-secret private spy organization Kingsman. Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman spend half of the overlong film on Eggsy’s training alongside other recruits, a sort of combination of Harry Potter and the first half of Full Metal Jacket. There’s very little tension in the process that whittles down candidates for a new Kingsman position, and the movie’s actual villain, tech billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), spends most of the middle of the movie biding his time.
Eventually Valentine reveals his evil plan for world destruction, as he tells Galahad about his affection for the especially colorful, over-the-top installments in the James Bond series. Kingsman fancies itself the cleverer, more self-aware cousin of those movies, but it lacks the wit and style of the best Bond adventures. It’s fun to see Firth cut loose and kick ass, but the brash, fast-talking Eggsy is no James Bond, and Jackson’s lisping Valentine is a joke of a villain. Making the whole thing into a joke may be part of the point, but the cynical humor doesn’t do much to balance Millar’s trademark nihilistic ultraviolence. Kingsman feels like it should be a good time, but it leaves a bitter aftertaste.