Fans of the vintage Bond films will enjoy “Kingsman: The Secret Service”: it’s been made for their enjoyment. Based loosely on a 007-inspired comic book series, Matthew Vaughn’s tale of an aristocratic spy ring disguised as Savile Row tailors attempts to revive the Bonds of the Sixties and Seventies—not in the slick Bourne-ified way of the Daniel Craig reboots, but with all the swagger and slapstick of the Moore and Connery classics. From the promo poster’s homage to “For Your Eyes Only” to the knowing jokes between the suave hero, Galahad (Colin Firth), and the lisping villain, Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), this is a tribute that glories in its source material—bulletproof umbrellas, well-shaken martinis and cringe-worthy one-liners abound.
But like many modern re-workings of classic designs, cuts and snips have been made in the name of 21st-century taste. Vaughn has done well to prune some of the obvious sexism and tacit classism that blighted the early years of the Bond franchise, and arguably still does. The precocious boy who became 007, according to Fleming’s books, was educated at Eton and treats his inferiors and attendants with a certain amount of disdain. Galahad’s young recruit Eggsy (Taron Egerton) grew up on a rough London estate and has no such airs. Like Bond, he quickly charms the ladies, in this case his fellow rookie Roxy (Sophie Cookson). But she is no Bond Girl or Moneypenny—she doesn’t sleep with him, die or file his paperwork.
In this way, Vaughn has stripped out the anachronisms without ruining the fun. For much of the film, while Eggsy and Galahad battle the evil mastermind Valentine, who is plotting to control the world via free SIM cards, “Kingsman” feels like a familiar and comfortable spy-action flick. But there are parts that chafe. Two moments stand out as particularly irksome. The first is an extended sequence in which a deranged Galahad massacres the entire congregation of a Westboro-Baptist-Church-esque sect, to the whoops of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. This was probably intended to be a playful parody of the ridiculous kill-counts racked up by Bond, but it comes across as a gratuitous five-minute butchering of innocent (albeit unpleasant) people. Any irony is buried under the impaled corpses and dismembered limbs.
The second comes near the end, when Eggsy sets about freeing some of Valentine’s hostages. One of these is the Princess of Sweden. Until now, she has resisted Eggsy’s overtures, but on learning of his quest to “save the world” she suddenly announces “we can do it in the asshole”—as a token of thanks for her release. Vaughn has claimed that this is an “empowering” moment, but it isn’t. His attempt to cheekily send up the Bond films’ sexist endings in fact indulges them, where it should be setting them straight.
Overall, Vaughn has done a decent job of refitting a vintage product for today’s Bond aficionados. It’s just a shame that behind the well-adjusted exterior there are still a few frayed edges. Tug at them a little and you’ll find a worrying mess: a villain who is also an environmentalist, working-class Londoners who are uniformly violent, a black Jackson serving a white Firth Big Macs for dinner. Viewers are free to ignore all of this; it just depends how much attention you pay to your tailoring.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is in cinemas now