Blu-ray Review: Kingsmen: The Secret Service

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Matthew Vaughn directed the very best X-Men film to date, the endlessly entertaining and emotionally satisfying First Class (2011). The initial trailers for his follow-up, Kingsmen: The Secret Service promised to deliver the same stylish visual quirks and involving narrative. The finished film definitely makes good on the visual quirk side of things. Vaughn is a real visionary with a super-kinetic style that is extraordinarily fun to watch. It’s Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s screenplay (based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel The Secret Service) that fails to engage on a deeper level, resulting in an oddly disengaging viewing experience. The film did manage to become a rather unlikely hit in theaters earlier in 2015. Now is the time to discover (or revisit) Kingsman with 20th Century Fox’s new Blu-ray edition.

kingsman09 (380x254).jpgAgain, Vaughn’s inventive style cannot be overstated. The action scenes crackle with visual wit (co-editors Eddie Hamilton and Jon Harris certainly deserve a great deal of credit, too). The film is sort of a straight-faced James Bond spoof, almost like an Austin Powers movie but without the jokes. Sure there’s plenty of humor (with Samuel L. Jackson supplying much of it), but even as Vaughn plays around with Bond clich├ęs, he never outright parodies them. However, much of the downside of Kingsmen can be credited to the off-putting newcomer Taron Egerton. He plays the council flat-dwelling underachiever Eggsy Unwin, hand-picked by Kingsmen uber-agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) to be trained for the Secret Service. Obviously this is highly subjective, but Egerton’s cold-fish take on Eggsy made it damn near impossible to develop any sense of sympathy for him.

kingsman07 (380x250).jpgFirth has some excellent moments as the unassuming, but highly dangerous, man of action (codenamed Galahad). His dispensing of a pub full of bullies is one of the film’s highpoints. A lisping, crooked ball cap-wearing Samuel L. Jackson appears to have more fun playing Richmond Valentine than any of his performances in recent memory. Valentine, in an apparent act of uncommon philanthropy, has unveiled a limitless supply of SIM cards that will provide everyone with free cell and internet service. It becomes clear quite quickly that Valentine is far from the big-hearted entrepreneur he presents himself as. Michael Caine is a welcome presence as Chester King, the head of the Kingsmen. But it turns out that learning who all these people are (not to mention the other new Kingsmen recruits) and how they relate to each other is far more fun than the uninspired adventure that makes up the bulk of the 129-minute runtime.

One of the reasons Kingsmen’s box office success came as something of a surprise was the presence of a male lead (Egerton) and a female co-star (Sophie Cookson as Kingsmen-in-training Roxy Morton) with no track record. But another reason was the film’s rather hard R-rating, which is commendable. Vaughn could’ve probably added considerably by making a PG-13 film (it does have a mildly youth-oriented vibe, what with the lead characters of Eggsy and Roxy), but he included some potent violence that ensured his film would have to deal with a deserved R. People literally get sliced in half in this film. On top of the no-holds-barred violence and flashy action visuals, Kingsmen also boasts a killer Mark Hamill cameo. Definitely lots to like, I just wished it was all more endearing.

kingsman04 (380x252).jpgMaking the most of Vaughn’s hip visuals (shot by cinematographer George Richmond), Fox offers a splendid high definition presentation on the Kingsmen: The Secret Service Blu-ray. Since it wasn’t exactly a thrifty production, it only stands to reason that Kingsmen would look pretty much perfect in a 1080p transfer. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack is equally winning, offering a complex, immersive mix that utilizes the entire surround spectrum quite well. This is simply subjective, but to my ears the quieter, dialogue-driven scenes are a bit too quite when compared to the robust, LFE-packed action sequences. I found myself adjusting the volume more often than I’d like to in order to compensate, but this really shouldn’t be looked at as a fault of the technical presentation.

The special features are a series of six featurettes: “Panel to Screen: The Education of a 21st Century Super-Spy,” “Heroes and Rogues,” “Style All His Own,” “Tools of the Trade,” “Breathtakingly Brutal,” “Culture Clash: The Comic Book Origins of The Secret Service.” Altogether these add up to a substantial 90 minutes. Aside from some still galleries and a theatrical trailer, these are the only primary bonuses but luckily they offer a strong look at the production. The Blu-ray package also includes a Digital HD copy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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