When I first saw Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), it was my introduction to star Taron Egerton. Given the material and tone of the film, I assumed he would go on to be an action star. Many of his films since have been of that variety, including the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), and the hilariously bad Robin Hood (2018). I would not have been surprised if this last one had completely derailed his career. It did not do so for Jamie Foxx, thankfully, though he was not the lead character. The same can be said for Egerton, who went on to do the critically acclaimed Rocketman (2019). Well, it was acclaimed by other critics than me, anyway, though I have never been a fan of musicals. Anyway, the arc from Kingsman: The Secret Service to Rocketman is an interesting one as they are very different movies. I bring this point up only to underscore how one can never really tell, can one? One minute you are playing a Cockney-accented, parkour enthusiast turned super-spy, and the next you are portraying a flamboyant (in every sense of the word) famous rock n’ roller.
Kingsman: The Secret Service starts with a sacrifice. The one giving his life is Lee Unwin (Jonno Davies), and he is doing so to protect his friend Harry Hart (Colin Firth), codenamed Galahad. This act leaves Harry feeling like he owes something to the memory of his fallen comrade, which he passes on to Harry’s infant son. The child grows up to be Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a military washout who is now running the streets of London. After stealing the car of some rival thugs, Eggsy tells his partner in crime to take off while he handles the police. Before he can take any intense questioning, he pulls out a medallion around his neck (given to him by Harry as a baby), calls the number on it, and utters a phrase. The next moment Harry comes to release him from custody. From there, Eggsy and Harry retire to a nearby pub where Harry begins to relate to the young man how he was able to obtain Eggsy’s release so easily. It is at this moment that the ruffians from whom Eggsy stole show up. Their appearance only serves to demonstrate how much of a physical badass is Harry, who easily handles all of them by reminding them that “Manners maketh man.” Harry then leaves, giving him the address to a tailor shop called Kingsman if he needs any further assistance. That need becomes apparent when the same flunkies Harry had beaten up come looking for Eggsy at his flat. Evading them, he makes his way to the shop, and enters a world he never knew existed. Harry, as Galahad, is part of a private intelligence organization, with its front as the tailor shop, and they are in need of a new Lancelot (Jack Davenport) since the first had been killed during a failed rescue mission seen earlier. Harry wants Eggsy to be a candidate, though it is apparent from the well-bred air of the others that he might not be a fit. Eggsy agrees to do so anyway, and while he begins the brutal training program Harry starts to piece together the events that led to Lancelot’s death. The first clue comes when he goes to meet the target of the failed rescue mission, Professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill). Harry is knocked unconscious when a bomb explodes, but he discovers that it had been implanted in Professor Arnold’s neck,based on surveillance of the event and noticing scar tissue just below the ear. Just like any other spy agency, the Kingsmen have their science-guy named Merlin (Mark Strong). Have you noticed a theme with the names yet? Merlin traces the technology to that of purported philanthropist Richmond Valenine (Samuel L. Jackson), who we know was in on the kidnapping of Professor Arnold. Harry goes to try and glean further information from Valentine, and he is led to a religious hate group in Kentucky. Meanwhile, Eggsy becomes one of the two remaining candidates. He fails to make the final cut, however, when he refuses to shoot the dog he had been tasked with caring for during the training. This leaves Roxanne “Roxy” Morton (Sophie Cookson) to become the next member of the Kingsmen, while Eggsy goes to stay at Harry’s place. Eggsy is left alone there because Harry has gone to Kentucky to investigate the lead he found while meeting Valentine. Unfortunately, this also puts him into range of the sim cards that Valentine is putting into every phone around the world, and giving away for free. When Harry gets to the church, the devices are activated, and everyone is sent into a murderous rage, including Harry. Because he possesses the reflexes of a trained assassin, he is the one to emerge from the gory mess, only to be promptly shot in the head by Valentine. Eggsy witnesses all this via the special glasses that Kingsmen wear and he happens to put on at the right moment. When he takes this evidence to the Kingsmen, he is given a temporary reinstatement with the group. Along with Merlin and Roxy, they are also able to worm their way into Valentine’s heavily guarded compound, where all the elite are being kept while he turns on the device that gets everyone around the world to start murdering each other. The good guys ultimately triumph, and Eggsy’s place is confirmed, particularly with the loss of Harry. He then comes full circle when, dressed to the nines, he repeats his mentor’s act in the same pub as earlier in the film.
What makes Kingsman: The Secret Service good is that in addition to not taking itself seriously, its action sequences are cleverly shot. To be sure, it is quite violent. This Catholic reviewer could have done without a massacre in a church, but Hollywood likes its anti-Christian stereotypes. Its irreverence is perhaps taken a little too far when one of Valentine’s captives, Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström), offers Eggsy a, er, reward if he can save the world. On a deeper level, though that word is used very loosely here, Valentine’s plan for world domination is Biblical in its design. He brings together his favorite people, and has each of them implanted a special chip that will block the signal emitted by the sim cards that makes everyone go on a rampage. If they do not cooperate, he can use those same chips to explode their heads. The idea is for them to wait securely for the world to end, and then they would repopulate it. This backfires for Valentine when Merlin is able to trigger the device for everyone, including Valentine. It may sound convoluted, but it has a sort of Revelation ring to it. Valentine believes only a select few are worthy of the world, and he chooses which ones will inherit it. Of course, the Bible says that something like this will come only after a titanic struggle between good and evil, and that good will ultimately triumph. The events in a movie like this one are small in comparison.
Though I can do without some of the material in Kingsman: The Secret Service, it is still a pretty fun movie. Good does triumph, here and in the end times. In a more immediate sense, it is some of the small things that make this movie. The fact that Eggsy does not kill his dog simply for the sake of joining the Kingsmen makes him a hero even more so than his ability to punch and kick people.