Mark Millar’s 2012 graphic novel Kingsman: The Secret Service is a deliberate satire of bondian spy antics. The immorality of a secret agent’s death-dealing, drink-quaffing, and womanizing antics are put on display for mockery. It does help that there is a hilarious cameo in the book’s beginning in which Mark Hamill — captured and tied up — explain’s to his captor why the Star Wars prequels are still important. Nonetheless, Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation takes a very different tonal direction, shifting from mockery of secret agent behavior, to adoration of it.
This perpetual worship of the spy genre is one of the movie’s greatest strengths. The goofiness of the average spy’s MO is twisted around, and turned into a glorious spectacle as we revel in the genius of riot shield umbrellas, explosive lighters, and poison-bladed oxfords.
Samuel L. Jackson’s equally ridiculous villain Valentine is another positive callback. His odd eccentricities could have been drawn from a hat. He can’t stand the sight of blood, lisps, and eats McDonald’s from a silver platter. His unrefined nature and odd sense of style are the perfect foil for the Tailor Shop-based Kingsmen, and their well-groomed, detail oriented tendencies.
And then there is Matthew Vaughn’s mastery of the camera. He does something indescribable with his action scenes that combined the fluidity of slo-mo action that takes in every component of a shot, with the intensity of an extreme shaky-cam. This is most adamantine in the famous “church scene” in which a mind controlled Harry Hart (Colin Firth) brutally dispenses with a congregation of Baptists set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird. With Extremely long takes and an insane amount of pivot and pan with little cutaway we almost forget to notice the garish horror before our eyes.
This isn’t Vaughn’s only time doing this though. He once again finds beauty out of revolting imagery in the film’s climax, in which an explosive device that rests inside the head of each employee of Valentine’s must be exploited. What is expected? the end of Phantom Menace but bloodier? But what do we get? A beautifully symphonic rendition of Pomp & Circumstance while heads explode in shades of indigo and orange. This moment could easily serve as a metaphor for the entire film. Vaughn repeatedly takes the most sickening and macabre subject matter and works his magic with it, rendering it fun, and visually spectacular.