Kingsman: Bond on steroids!

A dollop of James Bond, some London swagger straight out of a gritty Noel Clarke film, and a dash of the weird and fantastical lessons from Hogwarts in early Harry Potter films and… You’re not particularly close to what Kingsman: The Secret Service is all about.

Ok, let’s take Colin Firth. A bit of The King’s Speech, a sprinkle of Bridget Jones and, er, this really isn’t going to work. How on earth did Matthew Vaughn get funding to direct this film? It must have been impossible to explain, assuming he genuinely explained what he was actually going to do.

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I bet getting Firth on board was the easiest job of all. You can imagine the conversation. ‘Colin, I want you to take all the things that audiences love most about you and embrace them for this part, but turn them all on their head. Oh, and in the process I want you to kill people. Lots of people. All whilst in an impeccably tailored Savile Row suit.’

After Kick Ass, technically, people shouldn’t be surprised at the kind of films Vaughn likes to create. Or at least, the ones where he’s clearly having the most fun. Free from the shackles of a big studio – and with source material (graphic novel) from the twisted mind of Mark Millar – he’s been allowed to show the creators of the Bond franchise exactly what he’d do with a spy movie, given the chance. Vaughn doesn’t hold back in the slightest, picking up where he left off in Kick Ass, in a way, he really pushes the envelope. Not just shocks for the sake of it either, every moment of hilarious violence or edgy joke is there to serve the story and the characters.

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And talking of characters, newcomer Taron Egerton plays young tearaway Eggsy. A chap with bags of natural talent but has so far squandered it. Indebted to his family – and therefore looking out for Eggsy – is Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a Kingsman and super spy extraordinaire. Taking Eggsy under his wing he trains him up, under what Kingsman trainer Merlin (Mark Strong) calls ‘the toughest job interview in the world.’ During this time their big bad nemesis Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, having a whale of a time) is cooking up a plot to reduce the world’s population by having them cull themselves in a mass brawl.

So, plot done, what are we left with?

Well, this is a film that is, simply put, a ton of fun. Yes it’s ultra violent in a cartoonish sort of way, and yes it revels in that fact. But that’s sort of the point. There’s an early scene with one of the Kingsman, Lancelot (Jack Davenport, great to see him back) that really sets the tone in a gruesome yet hilarious way. And it goes on from there.

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Egerton impresses in his first major role. Rumour has it that Aaron Taylor-Johnson was considered for the part, but Egerton brings a freshness and vitality and is less of a distraction than a more established actor would have undoubtedly been. Jackson plays a meglomaniac, which probably wasn’t much of a stretch, but he, too, is allowed to let loose, which is a joy.

And then there’s Colin Firth. Never again will you look at him in the same way. Taking an entire career’s worth of withering, foppish, and very droll put-downs and quips, he inverts them in a most glorious manner. Has his filmography been building up to this moment? We can only hope so.

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There’s been talk of Kingsman developing into a franchise, but, if it does, it will probably go the same way as Kick Ass, and you’ll never have that same level of surprise and delight (or horror, depending on your point of view) as the first time round. Better to leave as a one-off I say, preserve the insanity and balls-out brilliance just as it is.

Django, Tarantino, Waltz and fantastic Foxx

From a failed heist gangster movie and female assassin revenge tale, through to an alternative take on the death of Hitler and Spaghetti Western tackling racism in the deep south – Quentin Tarantino has never failed to defy expectation.

Indeed, he’s spoken in the past about how he wants to maintain a consistently high standard for his directorial filmography: Something largely achieved thus far, perhaps excluding Death Proof,  which whilst not that bad, clearly wasn’t vintage Tarantino. django foxx waltz wantedThat said, from Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds through to this latest offering, you can see progression in his work; particularly his love of Spaghetti Western and its cinematic heroes and villains.

There’s plenty of scenes in Django Unchained that put me in mind of both Basterds and Kill Bill. The sort of tense, dialogue-heavy exchange between two characters that builds and builds to an epic – often explosive – climax. You see this in Django on more than one occasion; like a Writer-Director who’s flexing his muscles and grandstanding, but pulling it off with flair and panache.

Say what you like about Tarantino, but there’s hardly any Directors working today that’d go anywhere near this sort of material. That’s not to say much of it is historically that accurate, but with his trademark lashings of ultra-violence and wonderfully realised characters, it does make darn good cinema; putting it worlds away from bland Hollywood rehashes and remakes.

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In terms of plot, Django kicks off with Christopher Waltz’s bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz, seeking out a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx) to help identify his next set of targets, the Brittle brothers.

Schultz abhors slavery and agrees to set him free once he helps complete the job. Turns out, Django is a natural at bounty hunting and Schultz urges him to partner up over the winter, to which he agrees.

During this time Schultz learns Django has a wife called Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whom he plans to find and free once winter is over. Once Schultz hears this tale he agrees to help free Broomhilda from sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). As you’d expect, their plan doesn’t go as hoped and culminates in typical Tarantino fashion.

I like the way you die, boy

Originally there were a few actors rumoured for the part of Django, but I’m glad it went to Foxx. He really stole the show, bringing an effortless cool swagger and ruthlessness to the character. His tough, uncompromisingdjango and candie demeanour put me in mind of his performance in Collateral, particularly the scenes where he had to impersonate Tom Cruise’s hitman, which he did with great skill and poise.

Waltz, as the eloquent, unfailingly-polite bounty hunter, was on top form. Playing almost a continuation of his character from Basterds – but with more of a moral compass, even for a bounty hunter – he lit up the screen, every scene laying the groundwork for his encounter with DiCaprio’s violently sadistic Calvin Candie.

Which brings us to DiCaprio. Whilst aspects of characters he’s played in the past have been morally questionable, this is his first out-and-out pure bad guy. A Tarantino-scripted bad guy no less, which clearly gave him something to sink his teeth into, which he did with malevolent glee and aplomb: Revelling in scenes where he bounces off Waltz’s more moral Schultz.

django stephen samuel l jacksonFinally, honourable mention should go to the most dishonourable and despicable character, Samuel L Jackson’s ‘house n*gger’ Stephen. A black man who despises blacks more than most whites in the film do – viciously clinging to his position of power and authority in the Candie household.

Stephen is easily the most contemptible character Jackson has played in his career, something he does with astonishing conviction – subverting his natural charisma to make Stephen quite unpalatable to watch, but captivating nonetheless.

Hey, little troublemaker

It’s no big revelation that a Tarantino Western has been coming for a while. He’s peppered all his films with key scenes that nod to the genre: From the mexican stand-off in Reservoir Dogs and most of Kill Bill Vol 2, through to the powerful opening scene in Inglourious Basterds.

In terms of where this sits in his filmography, I’d say it’s on par with Kill Bill (I and II combined) but just edges Basterds – so one of his best, albeit suffering from a slightly long running time. If you’re even a passing fan of Westerns or Tarantino films, you won’t want to miss it.

[Interesting links]
Tarantino’s Top 20 Spaghetti Westerns
The Quentin Tarantino archives
Faster, Quentin! Thrill! Thrill! – Roger Ebert’s journal

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