Colin Firth: Action hero. Try wrapping your mind around that concept.
For those of us who think the fight scene between Firth and Hugh Grant in “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” is the funniest thing in that picture — two Brit twits, grappling awkwardly amid flurries of off-target kicks and ineffective punches — the notion of Firth delivering manly man physical punishments seems beyond absurd.
You can bet director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn knew that when he cast Firth in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” as a suave spy with lethal skills. That’s a big part of the picture’s comic appeal. And make no mistake, “Kingsman” is a comedy, though granted, one with gore galore, abundant dismemberments and literally mind-blowing violence. And I mean “literally” in the very strictest sense of the term.
But hey, cute puppies also are a key element in its plot, so there’s that.
“Kingsman” is a cleverly constructed homage to the James Bond pictures, particularly the early ones starring Sean Connery, before everything got so deadly serious in the Daniel Craig era. From its blaring, brassy Bond-derived musical score to such signifiers as an elaborate martini recipe and Rosa Klebb-style shoes — click heels together to extrude death-dealing poison toe blades — it’s old-style Bond, but massively amped up and deeply, cheerfully cynical.
Its most overt nod at classic Bond comes in a tête-à-tête between Firth’s character and Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the villain. “When I was a kid,” Sam says, “that was, like, my dream job: Gentleman spy.” To which Firth responds, “I always felt the old Bond movies were only as good as the villain. As a child, I rather fancied a future as a colorful megalomaniac.”
Jackson’s baddie, named Valentine, is in the best Bond tradition. He’s a megalomaniac all right, with a devilish scheme to drive the world stark, barking mad. As it descends into psychotic chaos and humanity does its best to obliterate itself, the Earth will be saved from choking pollution. He’s mean, you see, but also green. And also favors the 1 percent and heads of government, who will be spared the havoc in his scheme. And thus emerges Vaughn’s cynicism: In the Bonds, the government is the good guys.
And like the classic Bond bad guys who surrounded themselves with colorful henchmen, Valentine has Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), a double amputee whose carbon-fiber prosthetic legs are customized with deadly blades sharp enough to slice a man in half, lengthwise. Odd Job, eat your heart out. We’re way beyond your razor-bladed bowler.
The Kingsmen of the title, of which Firth’s character, code-named Galahad — yes, there’s a Merlin and a Lancelot and the leader of them all is Arthur, played by the regal Michael Caine — belong to a supersecret spy outfit whose members wear exquisitely tailored Savile Row suits and carry tightly furled umbrellas. Which are bulletproof. A very handy accessory in their line of work.
They’re an elite group always on the lookout for likely recruits, or in this particular case, an unlikely one: A young low-level street crook named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) whose Kingsman dad sacrificed his life to save Galahad in a long-ago mission gone bad, and to whom Galahad feels obligated to try to reclaim the kid from a life of crime.
So there are training sequences and gunplay sequences in which the lad must prove his mettle and sequences where Galahad instructs him on the finer points of being a gentleman. Egerton effectively holds his own with his famous co-stars: Rough-edged and surly early on, he gradually shows he has a good heart. Loves cute puppies, he does. And later on, he looks mighty good in a suit.
Excellent tailoring makes the man in “Kingsman.” Yes it does.