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Front Page - Friday, February 20, 2015

‘The Kingsman’ first great flick of 2015

The Critic's Corner

David Laprad

I love old spy movies, the kind in which the villain explains his evil plan to the hero and then devises a convoluted means of death for his nemesis, only his adversary pulls off an equally elaborate escape plan.

“The Kingsman: The Secret Service,” however, is not that kind of spy movie. But, God help me, I love it, too.

Part of the fun of seeing a movie are the conversations that take place after seeing it. As you and your friends quote the best lines, and talk excitedly about your favorite scenes, you communally relive the experience of watching it. I believe “The Kingsman” is the kind of film that’s going to inspire a lot of geek infused conversation.

For starters, I think people who have seen the movie will be talking about what happens in the church. I’d be a churl to give it away, although I will say it’s something you’ll never see in a James Bond film. Bond might be a ladies’ man, but in “The Kingsman,” we finally get a spy movie with balls.

If you and I were chatting about “The Kingsman,” I’d also bring up the skydiving scene, the fireworks show, and how the film’s hero gets the girl in the end – literally.

But the incident in the church would keep us talking. For me, it summed up the character of the movie: it’s shocking, hilarious, violent, unrealistic, and brave. It takes the time-honored traditions of the spy movie and subverts them, giving viewers something unexpected and crass. In other words, “The Kingsman” updates the genre for modern audiences.

The plot: Valentin is a super villain out to slaughter the human race, and Harry Hart is an agent for a top secret organization called The Kingsmen, which has been saving the world since the mid-19th century. Valentin is just the kind of megalomaniac the Kingsmen were designed to take out: he believes the only way to keep mankind from destroying the Earth by means of the greenhouse effect is mass genocide. Instead of doing his own dirty work, though, he plans to use cell phone technology to activate a signal that will turn every man, woman, and child into a bloodthirsty killer.

You can imagine the fun the filmmakers, including writer and director Matthew Vaughn (“X-Men: First Class”), had with this storyline. But in addition to being shocking, hilarious, violent, unrealistic, and brave, “The Kingsman” has a heart, as revealed through the relationship between Harry and a young man he hopes to help become a Kingsman. Played by actor Taron Egerton, Gary has done a few things he shouldn’t have, and is on a path to doing more, but deep down, he’s a good kid. His mother raised him alone after his dad died, so he’s primed for a father figure when Harry steps into the picture as his mentor.

Vaughn plays the relationship straight, giving it a lot of weight and gravity. This provides the film with an anchor in reality. Without it, “The Kingsman” would be a mere parody of spy movies.

If “The Kingsman” has one failing, it’s the line it tows between satire and playing it straight. Is it “Austin Powers” or “Skyfall?” Even the characters in the movie aren’t sure. “Today’s spy movies are too serious,” says Valentin in a scene with Harry. “Give me a far-fetched theatrical plot any day.”

But the “The Kingsman” offers too many pleasures for me to get caught up in nitpicking about its minor identity crisis. I’d rather tell you about Sam Jackson’s weird but wonderful performance as the lisping Valentin, Colin Firth’s tonally perfect Hart, and the beautifully written dialogue. (“Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson,” says Harry to a roomful of thugs.)

I just wish we could talk about these things in person. What a time we’d have reliving this remarkable film!

Three-and-a-half stars out of four. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language, and some sexual content.

 David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.