**1/2 stars out of ****
The new film Kingsman: The Secret Service plays like an ultra-violent, R-rated Harry Potter Goes to Spy School.
A young hoodlum (Taron Egerton) learns his long-dead father died fighting with an elite, secret British intelligence force. His dad’s mentor (Colin Firth) recruits Egerton, and together they work to stop a megalomaniacal environmentalist (a lisping Samuel L. Jackson).
There are jokes about old and new Bond films, but Firth (the movie’s biggest asset) plays it all straight. If he’d endlessly winked at the audience, Kingsman could have quickly become insufferable. But Firth anchors the film in every scene he appears.
Some writers are already criticizing Kinsgman for a perceived right-wing bias in how it depicts the president and environmentalists. In reality, the film’s outlook is one of general adolescent misanthropy instead of having a left or right-wing slant. Christian fundamentalists and the movie’s wealthiest one-percenter characters are all portrayed as villains and die horrible deaths, too.
There’s a mean-spirited ickiness to all of this, especially in a scene where Egerton offers to save a princess in return for sexual favors and in director Matthew Vaughn’s over-reliance on extreme gore. While that leaves a sour aftertaste, it’s hard not to feel at least a begrudging admiration for the film’s complete, utter insanity in its final 40 minutes. You may love Kingsman, you may hate it. But it is definitely not a timid film, and that counts for something.