kingsman-poster-mainBy Jarrod Jones. There’s a moment in Kingsman: The Secret Service that will truly give you pause. Actually, there are more than a few moments in Matthew Vaughn’s latest collaboration with comic book provocateur Mark Millar that will make you strike a pose (you know which one) and go, “hmm.” (But that’s beside the point.)

The moment I’m referring to will make you run to your optometrist to snag a pair of the rather impressive bifocals that adorn Sir Michael Caine and Commander Colin Firth in this rambunctious splatter-spy-fest. Because in that moment, if you squint, you’ll be staring into the eyes of Colin Firth, action star. That’s right. Mr. Fucking Darcy just out-classed Wolverine in a filmic body count.

To say precisely which moment that is would be giving part of the fun away, and a true Kingsman knows when to keep his mouth shut. (“Manners maketh man,” and all that.) But suffice it to say, Colin Firth deserves his own action figure after giving Kingsman a very essential infusion of sophistication that the film may have otherwise squandered in all this havoc. He deserves to be immortalized in plastic as much as Nicholas Cage deserved his own sixteen points of articulation after giving Vaughn’s Kick-Ass serious superhero gravitas. The two men are Vaughn’s dramatic ringers amid all this heroic posturing. Firth’s performance is certainly a thankless one, but one for which he will be fondly remembered. And he didn’t even have to develop a stutter for it.

Instead the showy affectations belong to villain Samuel L. Jackson, whose heavily-applied lisp saps the energy right out of every single monologue the acting veteran attempts to orate. (That lisp also makes Jackson sound an awful lot like Mike Tyson. So do with that what you will.) As uber-billionaire Richmond Valentine, Jackson’s arch-villain adopts a few Goldfinger-esque quirks befitting of a proper nemesis. Only problem is it’s 2015, and supervillains inexplicably require a speech impediment these days (though we might want to thank Tom Hardy and Sir Ben Kingsley for that), and coupled with a penchant for baseball caps tipped just-so, Jackson’s baddie isn’t menacing so much as he is totally and utterly ridiculous. And that would be okay if Kingsman embraced itself as a Bond send-up, but as Valentine tells us, “this ain’t that kind of movie.

kingsman-hollywood-film-6-14-6-movies-you-need-to-watch-before-you-watch-kingsman-the-secret-service - EditedLike hell it’s not. For the sake of argument, Kingsman isn’t so much a spy flick as it is a superhero film. Just mentally swap the gaudy leather jumpsuits for a rather smart three-piece, and then all the slo-mo fight sequences featuring Firth and newcomer Taron Egerton take on a more substantive subtext. But there’s a flip-side to all of this tonal inequality: If we do that, then all the seemingly accidental allusions to other genre fare take on a more deliberate bent. Once you set it under this particular microscope, Kingsman begins to look like one big cheat.

Vaughn is a filmmaker who strives to make his works as iconic as possible. That makes his bigger, splashier films (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) stick out in a cinephile’s mind. That’s a problem for Kingsman, because once you consider the maybe-incidental parallels to his successful oeuvre, others begin to pop out of the woodwork: think of the film’s bookending of two pop songs spilling out of a rolling tapedeck (Guardians of the Galaxy). Thrill to the rampant carnage and bloodshed of a pivotal action sequence, set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” (The Devil’s Rejects). Watch as a weary soldier delivers a farewell token to a fallen compatriot’s widow and his son (Pulp Fiction). Have the film’s heavy pontificate on the degenerative effects humanity has had on Earth, and then go so far as to call us a “disease” (The Matrix). And don’t forget the spoiler-ific allusions to Vaughn’s First Class and Kick-Ass, because they’re the most obvious of all. Kingsman is many things – entertaining being one of them – but original? Puh-leeze.

kingsmanx10 - EditedDamning Kingsman‘s situation further is its blank-slate of a leading man. Taron Egerton certainly has the jawline and winning smile to carry a film such as this, but Vaughn’s screenplay (which he co-wrote with Jane Goldman) leaves much of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin’s personal strife on the periphery. Any romantic chance with Roxy (Sophie Cookson) is going to have to wait until the sequel, and his adversarial angst towards shifty step-dad (Geoff Bell) or boot-camp rival Charlie (Edward Holcroft) are either set aside entirely or left for the pre-credits sequence. Eggsy is the empty void that was once filled by a young Will Smith in Men in Black (another flick that Kingsman owes its DNA to), a vessel through which the film relates its imbecilic plot to the audience. He’s way more effective than the film would allow him to be.

As a forgettable action romp, Kingsman : The Secret Service does just fine. But as an action film that wishes to stand out amid the onslaught of a ceaseless blockbuster season… well, shit. It hardly stands a chance. (Even Valentine’s personal, lethal valet, played with a Sofia Boutella, gives me creepy Kill Bill vibes all on her own.) It’s nice to be entertained. But Kingsman: The Secret Service would have to wake up pretty early in cinema’s timeline to eclipse memories of the superior films that came before it. There is enough to keep you engaged but the truth is absolute: It’s hard to get pumped about something you’ve seen nearly a hundred times before.