British critics were not kind to Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” a snarky spy tale loosely based on a Mark Millar comic, when it opened in the U.K. at the end of January. But as the film’s U.S. opening approaches, the movie, which stars Colin Firth as a dapper spy recruiting a teenage boy into his secret society’s ranks, is winning enthusiastic reviews from Stateside critics, who find it an affectionately clever extension — and occasionally sincere critique of — the James Bond franchise. With a cast that includes Michael Caine, Mark Strong and Samuel L. Jackson, Vaugh has his transatlantic tough-guy bases covered, and Mark Hamill distinguishes himself in a role that doesn’t make even a nod to Luke Skywalker. Vaughn, of “X-Men: First Class” and “Kick-Ass” fame, isn’t known for his lightness of touch, but if you’re on this side of the Atlantic, it sounds like your chances of falling for “Kingsman” are pretty darn good.
Reviews of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”
Anthony Lane, New Yorker
The appeal of “Kingsman” depends on a calculated clash between this unbridled mayhem and the decency of the nicely bridled spies. In the cruellest sequence, Firth, diverting slightly from his role in “Pride and Prejudice” (1995), goes berserk in a church, shooting or stabbing half the congregation, burying a hatchet in the skull of one woman, and impaling the preacher on a stake. Heaven forfend! If you deem it unbecoming that Mr. Darcy should conduct himself thus, the film has got you right in the britches. Your shock is part of the plan.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
All the stuff that Moore critics claim is dated and passé is here and tremendously fun. There’s a cold-open action sequence at a mountain chalet. An over-the-top super-villain with a gaudy fashion sense and an enormous lair hidden inside a mountain. A henchman with bizarre metal implants. Crazy spy gadgets. Irreverent comedy and casual sexuality. And for the most part it all fits seamlessly into a story that feels fresh and contemporary.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
This is no “xXx”-style “James Bond isn’t cool enough anymore” cheap shot, but rather a “let’s update 007 for the millennials” in the best way. Its emphasis on class and the challenges of economic mobility end up getting right to the heart of the populist fantasy of the whole suave secret agent myths. Oh, and it casts Mark Hamill in a small role that refreshingly contains not one reference to Star Wars, so it has that going for it too.
Matt Prigge, Metro
Is “Kingsman” parodying old school Bond or reasserting the franchise’s classist, Old Britannia leanings? Truth is “Kingsman” just doesn’t care. It’s a goof, a lark, a bit of silliness that filters bombastic American junk through an English sieve — blending dry wit and reticence into a mélange of blockbuster explosions and cool killings. It’s an alternate universe Bond movie that arrives in an age when the series has gone dark and realistic, offering one that’s pure, trashy spectacle, with R-rated violence and a complete lack of tact. It’s a movie for teenage boys if there ever was one, which is to say it’s also powerfully sexless, right up to an ending that would titillate only a 14-year-old.
Drew Taylor, Playlist
“Kingsman,” however, is perched at just the right pop cultural nexus; after four “Bourne” films and three recent James Bond entries, each more serious than the last (and with more on the way). This is perhaps the perfect moment to give the middle finger to the genre, while starting a whole new, self-aware franchise in the process.
James Rocchi, Wrap
With its fashion-forward flair — the film may borrow liberally from the Roger Moore 007 era, but there’s also a touch of Patrick Macnee’s bespoked gentleman spy Mr. Steed from “The Avengers” — “Kingsman: The Secret Service” feels like a well-made gentleman’s suit, with superb cut, distinctive color, and excellent construction. In terms of cut, the film’s style is precise and yet broad, with the hidden lairs, jump-suited minions and maniacal villains of a long-gone era of Bond movies, perfectly walking the fine line of mocking what it loves and vice versa.
Jordan Hoffman, Guardian
The spirit of 007 is all over this movie, but Vaughn’s script (written with frequent collaborator Jane Goldman) has a license to poke fun. There are direct references, like how to mix a martini and Lotte Lenya’s spiked shoe, but the overall vibe is sheer glee, as if no one involved in the production can believe they’re getting away with making such a batshit Bond.
Adam Woodward, Little White Lies
It’s a deliriously entertaining, at times wildly misfiring controlled demolition job of a movie. Like watching someone who’s spent months carefully renovating a Grade II listed country estate suddenly reveal that the entire place is wired to a comically oversized ACME brand TNT plunger.
Tom Huddleston, Time Out
Never less than slick, precision-tooled multiplex entertainment, “Kingsman” hews close to the formula Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman established in their superficially similar “Kick-Ass”: hyperspeed action, pithy one-liners and grotesque ultraviolence. Firth plays it straight up with a smirky twist, Egerton is a likeable frontman and there are winning cameos from Michael Caine as a shifty bureau chief and Mark Hamill as — get this — a fusty British science professor.
Mark Kermode, Observer
For the most part it’s brash, boisterous fare, cocking unsubtle snooks at its generic predecessors, not least in a poster image that subverts the leggy chauvinism of “For Your Eyes Only” with a killer close-up of razor-sharp running blades. A shame, then, that the film should succumb to leering laddish humour, closing on an unforgivable bum note.
Tim Robey, Telegraph
For those weary few of us who harbour an allergy to Vaughn’s deliberately obnoxious style, each movie feels like an insult – one added to a heap of computer-generated injuries. The more calculated Vaughn’s films are to appeal to his surprisingly rabid fan-base, the more they seem custom-built to repel everyone else.
Donald Clarke, Irish Times
If you enjoyed Kick-Ass, the first collaboration between director Mathew Vaughn, comic book scribe Mark Millar and adapter Jane Goldman, then you will go ballistic for the team’s latest fricassee of hip violence and transgressive obscenity. If, on the other hand, you found Kick-Ass an overextended, witless retread of ancient deconstructions then… Well, you can see where this is going. The baffling degree of buzz gathering around “Kingsman” only proves that no bad idea can, if sufficient will exists, resist repeated popular exploitation.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
It’s a modern-day twist on the ’60s tradition of Bond, on spoofs such as “Our Man Flint” and, of course, on bowler-hatted, brolly-twirling John Steed from “The Avengers.” Consciously or not, however, it’s an ungainly throwback to the lad-mag ’90s, those suited-and-booted fashion spreads, and the smug mockney-geezer world of uncool Britannia and Guy Ritchie.
Kevin Lally, Film Journal International
Despite its high and garish body count (including one especially jarring fatality), it’s impossible to takeKingsman seriously, since it’s constantly winking at the audience by quoting all those well-worn elements from the 50-year-old Agent 007 movie series. Hart and Valentine even discuss the genre they’re in at a couple of key points. “Give me a far-fetched, diabolical plot, like the old Bond movies,” Jackson’s Valentine declares, with a risible lisp that helps steal every scene he’s in.