- - Thursday, February 12, 2015

It’s fitting that the international spy agency at the center of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” operates out of a high-end tailor shop on Savile Row. The movie’s characters are perfectly costumed, and the movie itself is impeccably stylish.

Director Matthew Vaughn’s latest graphic novel adaptation has verve, wit and flair, against which it juxtaposes a joyously vulgar populism. It’s a spectacular crowd pleaser, tailor-made for the masses — and the moment.

“Kingsman” is a movie for the 99 percent, and not just those encumbered with the academic leftism of the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The villain is Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson, in his most memorable role in years), a fashionable tech zillionaire with a comic lisp that, surprisingly, gets more funny than irritating. Valentine is a prototypical Davos-type, a devout liberal and dedicated climate change activist who has given billions of dollars to the cause, only to be defeated repeatedly. He decides that more drastic — and, one discovers, deadly — measures are needed, although the world’s moneyed elite are, of course, exempt.

The movie’s populism is distinctly conservative — there are explicit shout-outs to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher — but it is neither preachy nor entirely predictable.

Instead of earnest dogmatism, Mr. Vaughn opts for a mix of smirking satire and flippant wit. Spy movies are as much a target as any political agenda.

In particular, “Kingsman” is a sendup of James Bond as well as an homage to his legacy. Many of the movie’s grace notes, including its spectacular gadgets, villain’s secret mountain lair and jazzy score, riff on the tropes established by 007.

Sometimes the movie pokes fun, as with the pornographic kicker to its final showdown, and sometimes the movie simply does Bond one better, as with the arsenal of outrageous gadgets. The movie’s agents rely on bulletproof blazers and see-through umbrellas, programmable wrist darts and poison-spiked oxfords, cigarette lighter hand grenades and shotgun shell-shooting pistols. They are armed and outfitted with equal creative zip.

The two principal agents are Galahad (Colin Firth), a longtime member of the secret spy society, and Eggsy (Taron Egerton), his young recruit. Eggsy is one of a handful of hopefuls brought in to test for a single spot at the agency, and much of the movie is consumed with tracking his various trials and training rivalries.

In theory, it’s Mr. Egerton’s Eggsy who is the protagonist, the young hero whose transformation from street thug to savvy spy charts the movie’s main arc. Although Mr. Egerton makes a fine recruit, it is Mr. Firth who, as the young man’s mentor, makes the most formidable impression. He is a gentleman but also, fittingly for this rabble-rousing picture, an anti-elitist who believes that upper-class grace is learned, not inherited.

His Galahad — members of the Kingsman spy service are code-named for the Knights of the Round Table — is spirited and proper, a gentleman warrior whose combination of subtle manners and athletically violent antics are the movie’s highlight.

Those antics, including a spectacularly violent showdown in a fundamentalist church, are managed with an uncanny combination of choreographed precision and unbridled glee by Mr. Vaughn.

He has directed comic book movies, such as the rowdy “Kick-Ass” and the marvelous “X-Men: First Class,” and “Kingsman” shares many of the same strengths and flaws, including some difficulty maintaining a consistent tone, although the ultraviolence in “Kingsman” is more overtly comic.

Still, this is his best work to date, a violent, scathing, funny, first-rate work of provocatively populist pop — the cinematic equivalent of a perfect fit.


TITLE: “Kingsman: The Secret Service

CREDITS: Directed by Matthew Vaughn; written by Mr. Vaughn and Jane Goldman

RATING: Rated R for outrageous violence, language

RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes


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