Finally, we have come to the first movie from 2015 that I loved.
Not a huge surprise, I think Matthew Vaughn is a great director – able to mix over-the-top comic violence with a graphic-novel sense of visuals. His movies really do look like live-action comics. Previously, he served as a producer on the good Guy Ritchie movies (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch), as well as the best remake of the Longest Yard – The Mean Machine. He directed Layer Cake, Stardust (still one of my favorites), X-Men First Class, and Kick Ass (which I hated, but it looked good). And now Vaughn has directed the movie version of the 2012 comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.
In the comic, an MI-6 agent trains his nephew while tackling a global terrorist and his henchman. The movie, like the comic, starts with Mark Hamill being abducted, but unlike the comic – in the movie Mark Hamill plays someone else. In the comic – he’s just Mark Hamill, yes, I know that’s a little confusing. In any case, the environmental scientist gets kidnapped, is almost rescued by a British secret service agent, but is then recaptured by Richard Valentine – one of the richest and smartest men on the planet. Valentine is collecting what he considers to be the ‘best and brightest’ before he puts into effect a plan to cull the population of the planet.
Meanwhile, Eggsy, a young hooligan in London, is struggling with life as he has dropped out of the marines and his mother is dating an abusive moron. He gets arrested, and calls the number on the back of the medal he was given as a child by the man who came to tell him and his mother that his father just died serving the country. Harry Hart comes to bail him out, and tells him about the Kingsmen, a secret service of agents with code names from King Arthur’s knights of the round table (he’s Galahad, Merlin works at the base, etc.). Since they have just lost Lancelot on the Valentine mission – Eggsy becomes Galahad’s submission to the new round of trainees to replace Lancelot. He goes through a series of difficult tests (don’t worry – nothing happens to the dog, although it does get close). Eventually, Valentine’s plan is revealed, and the Kingsmen have to save the day.
I don’t want to say too much else about the plot, because this movie is really good, and you should see it. I only explain the entire plot when it’s a terrible movie that you should never see. For example, my review of Mortdecai has the entire plot in it.
The movie is really fast moving – really fun, and completely over-the-top. The training sequences of Eggsy and the other recruits are cut between sequences of the other Kingsmen still on mission, so there is no lull in the action. The fight scenes are amazing, fast, and almost video-game style. Vaughn excels at this type of direction, and this is completely in his wheelhouse, making for the strongest possible product. There are clear homages to old Bond movies, especially in the gadgets. The gadgets are everywhere and they are awesome - especially the bulletproof umbrella. The cast is exceptional:
- Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, code name Galahad – and this is very much a Colin Firth movie. He’s exceptional as the very tight-lipped and proper gentleman-spy. When he does cut loose in a fight, he’s an incredible warrior – and much of it actually was Firth. I have never really been much of a fan of his, and never really got the attraction a lot of women have for him – until this movie. Which again, just goes to prove my Damon/Bourne theory: men are much more attractive in action movies.
- Mark Strong plays Merlin – and I did spend most of the movie waiting for him to turn, because of course, there’s no way Mark Strong can be a good guy. So – slight spoiler alert here – he’s a good guy the whole way through. I’m not sure about the accent he’s doing, it’s slightly Irish, which seemed unnecessary, but everything else was entertaining. I still think he’d make an excellent Grand Admiral Thrawn.
- Taron Egerton plays Eggsy (or Gary). This movie should really be quite a jumping off point for his career. He’s grumpy and punk-ish in the beginning, but manages to layer that over a really frustrated young man who has the potential for so much more – making it easy to see why Galahad recruits him. He also plays the transition to spy from thug with just the right amount of surprise, then comfort. He’s great, and I can’t wait to see more of him.
- Michael Caine plays Michael Caine as Arthur – the head of the Kingsmen organization. He’s very proper and British and stuck in the way things have always been done.
- Samuel L. Jackson chews all the scenery in the best possible way as Valentine. He just Bond-bad-guy-s his way through it, and has a really good time. It’s so much fun. The added lisp is a bit crazy, but fits his crazy-villain mystique. I particularly loved the stand-off between Valentine and Galahad in the tailor’s shop.
- Sofia Boutella plays Gazelle – a character who in the comic was a man. She’s a real-life dancer who does have both feet, but in the movie has no feet (how did Amy Purdy not get that job?). Instead she has the running blades with optional retractable slicing blades. It’s a hell of a henchman gimmick, and man, does it work great in this movie! I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and how often do you get to say that anymore? She’s mean, she’s nasty – and the fights with the feet-blades are incredible.
- Sophie Cookson plays Roxy – another recruit going through the testing with Eggsy – since I haven’t mentioned any others, you can quickly interpret that she and Eggsy are the only two that make it through, not really a spoiler there. She does a great job, and is believable as an aspiring spy.
- And yes, Mark Hamill plays eco-scientist Dr. James Arnold, and was equally happy to be in both this and the comic. He does a commendable British accent, because really – he’s amazing at voices and accents. He doesn’t have a huge role, but he’s fun while he’s there. Also – I got really excited for the scene that he and Sam Jackson were both in, two amazing Jedi Masters in one scene! Yes – yes, I know, sometimes I cannot control my Star Wars geek-ness.
Listen, this movie is great, it’s fun, and you should definitely go see this rather than any other movie that was released on Valentine’s day (ahem, you know which piece of nonsense I’m referring to). Smooth move by the filmmakers to have the villain named Valentine – and have him counting down to “V-Day!” – pretty hilarious! It is rated R, and like all Vaughn’s movies, there is a great deal of violence and cursing – but most is done in an over-the-top comic style, and easy to deal with. I guarantee you’ve never laughed so hard at multiple heads exploding!
9 out of 10 – it’s excellent. Gained points for Jackson; for Hamill; for Mark Strong; for Gazelle’s nifty leg blades; for cutting the training sequences in with other action so you do not have one really long training sequence; for the surprising turn when Valentine confronts Galahad; for the eventual replacement of Lancelot; and for the exploding heads – seriously. Lost points for putting the dogs in danger (but still – they were okay), and for the scene with the Scandinavian Princess at the very end – it went just a touch too far – and as you know, I’m all for pushing for better females roles in action movies. Cookson and Boutella were both amazing, so having the Princess promise Eggsy anal sex if he saves the world was a little unnecessary. I did love that Eggsy’s first instinct during the “drown the recruits test” was to try the door. Very logical!
Bonus Video 1: Mean Machine – I love this movie.
Bonus Video 2: Vaughn’s Stardust – I love this movie too.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews: