This movie is incredible. Matthew Vaughn, whose two previous directorial features, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, rank among my favorite modern action films, absolutely knows what he's doing, that much I already knew, but, watching Kingsman: The Secret Service, I was in awe of the fact that he knows what he's doing to such an extreme, intricate extent. This is not merely an action-comedy like what I expected; this is going to become one of the action-comedies, one of the examples that I will always be able to look at as a prime example of how a film in the genre can work to near-perfection.
The characterization in this movie works with a force, re-working the familiar tropes presented in countless movies before, starring a young delinquent named Eggsy who discovers his place in a lineage of spies called the Kingsmen, rescuing him from an abusive household and a life of small crime to turn him into a sophisticated, intelligent young man The film itself acknowledges the clichéd nature of this set-up, comparing it to multiple other films to use the same basic concept, but it doesn't fall into the traps that plague other films to acknowledge their flaws; unlike most films that do this, it actually roots the parodic nature of these gags into its very core, allowing it to fully blossom as a parody rather than putting a humorous skin over a straight movie. This really does go all the way, driving its set-up into clever, witty territory that makes it an extremely sophisticated story full of three-dimensional, vibrant characters like Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton in a performance that is honestly far too good to be his first major role, Colin Firth, known for his work in films such as The King's Speech and Love Actually as his mentor, Harry Hart, and, the insane, villainous Richmond Valentine, brilliantly portrayed as a 21st century technology-icon gone mad by Samuel L. Jackson in one of his most energetic and vivid performances since Pulp Fiction came out over twenty years ago. Every actor delivers comedic gold in their delivery in some of the most entertaining, well-paced humor in any movie of the decade. As for the jokes themselves, they are absolutely delightful, relishing in the low-class sensibility and high-class wit that the film is built on, satirizing classism, jingoism, celebrity-worship, consumerism, and American and English culture through a lens of humor that would fit in a Comedy Central series, driven by crude humor and over-the-top caricatures of civilization that almost all hit perfectly.
As for the "action" aspect of this action-comedy, it is absolute perfection of shot composition and choreography. Each scene moves with a fluid sense of weight to it that many modern action films desperately need, eschewing the now-accepted format of shaky-cam and fast-cutting that hides the poor design of the actual fights for a more stylistic, intense experience, never allowing any of the imagery to become muddled or stagnant. The perfect example of this brilliant creativity is found in what is probably the most memorable scene in the film, in which Colin Firth fights his way through a crowded hate-church. The entire segment, lasting around five minutes, is masterfully paced, constantly shifting constantly in fighting style and slowing down to allow a greater level of juxtaposition in the many deaths that occur in the scene. What Vaughn knows that it seems very few modern action directors know is that the traditional five-act narrative arc of exposition, rising-action, climax, falling-action, and resolution, can and should be applied to each moment of a film, each frame of action, in order to give each moment the proper pay-off, each climax the rise and fall it deserves. The action does slow down and speed up slightly throughout the segment with enough subtlety to make the entire segment a clear, thrilling moment of violence that absolutely relishes its R-rating to show some of the greatest close-combat a film can have, drenching itself in the high-energy motion of its subjects to show Colin Firth brutally killing an entire congregation of evangelicals in a swift, wildly entertaining burst of extreme, creative violence. This is what action movies are made to do: make the audience as excited as the characters. Kingsman pulls this off with flying colors. The only issue with the action sequences, although an admittedly distracting one, is the abundance of CGI in a film that, unfortunately, just doesn't have good CGI. It makes the movie look visually clustered at times, and, while an extremely minor issue, it could have been heavily improved.
This movie is incredible. It's an intelligent, accessible, joyously excessive film that drives through its concept in a love-letter to spy thrillers and film-making as a whole. Everything works, everything hits, and everything is effective. This is not a movie--this is a modern masterpiece of pacing and clever writing that is sure to become a cult classic on par with the other modern odes to classic genres, such as Pacific Rim, Kill Bill, and The Raid.