Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014; dir. Matthew Vaughan) is fairly well made and consistently entertaining. It reminded me at moments of The Avengers television series from the 1960s, which I rarely watched, and of other films and programs about espionage in which the agents are suave and sophisticated members of a highly complex and efficient organization. This film is serious but also tongue-in-cheek. We begin with a juvenile delinquent who is befriended by a man who is secretly a member of the service. He recognizes hidden talents and attributes within the boy and invites him to train for the service. The film describes the training and also the emergence of a new world menace. Of course there is violence in this film, but it is strangely antiseptic. One agent is sliced in half, from head to toe, by a svelte woman in black leather named Gazelle who is adept at martial arts and who wears razor sharp artificial legs. She is one reason why the film is interesting. Colin Firth, who plays Harry Hart, the agent who befriends the youth, is the other. He’s cool and smooth in that British secret agent sort of way, and he makes you think that he’ll surmount whatever challenge the enemies put in front of him.
Most surprising to me about this film is the eccentric, lisping, effeminate super villain, Richmond Valentine, played by Samuel Jackson. Modeled (perhaps) on any number of Bond villains, he seeks not merely to take over the world but to destroy it, all for the sake of environmental preservation.
I suppose Ian Fleming is responsible for the romanticizing of espionage and spies, and this film certainly works in the tradition of the James Bond films, though it’s more modest and less mechanical. Everything I know (which isn’t much) about espionage (largely informed by John Le Carré) says that it’s a sordid, tedious, sometimes hazardous business. Tuxedoes, martinis, sex with beautiful women, and exotic locales rarely have much to do with it, though in the Bond films they seem the main preoccupation.