Hart, one of Kingman’s two men of action and played beautifully by Colin Firth, is forced to recruit a new agent from among a bunch of young people when the only other man of action in his agency is sliced into half by the pointed appendages of a deadly female Oscar Pistorius. Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), as she is known, is the right-hand of malevolent billionaire Valentine (Samuel L Jackson), who has a drastic solution to the irreversible effects of climate change: vapourise the human race and start on a clean slate. Meanwhile, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) gets the chance of a lifetime to leave behind his working-class Council flat and his dysfunctional family, learn to wear a suit and upgrade his accent.
Vaughn, who has previously directed the comic book adaptations X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, is completely at home in this preposterous hall of mirrors in which image is everything, appearance is paramount, and aspiration is the key to a harmonious society. A training exercise run by the tough-as-nails Merlin (Mark Strong) in which the recruits are nearly drowned is one of many heart-stopping acting sequences that, together with smart writing, top-class production design and slick cinematography elevate the predictable plot.
Adapted loosely from the graphic novel series The Secret Service, created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, the 129-minute movie places itself within a longstanding cinematic tradition of British spies – Smiley, Bond, Palmer – while also acknowledging the impact of the relentlessly action-driven Jason Bourne franchise. Sir Michael Caine, who has played the undercover operative Harry Palmer in The Ipcress File, pops up as the passive head of the Kingsman agency, while Firth, one of the best embodiments of the stiff upper-lip, reveals to Eggsy the secret of his nation’s dominance at various stages in history: always be pucca, but never forget to channel the inner football fan when the going gets tough.
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