Everything in Kingsman is familiar, cribbed from James Bond and a thousand other sources, yet every setup gets twisted twice, and then once more, just when you think you're ahead of it. Director Matthew Vaughn's mode is parodic, but he stages the killings with joyous vigor -- he's gunning for applause, even when what he's showing us would have been read by previous generations as horror. He somehow keeps the craziness coming, through three or four escalating climaxes. Even the most stale of adventure-tale clichés gets blown up to absurdity: Our lead (Taron Egerton)'s reward for his heroics isn't just the usual good-hearted beauty -- it's a princess who quite literally promises him her asshole.
Is that a critique of women's roles in men's adventures? Or just a horny-porny updating?
As in Kick-Ass, Vaughn (and Mark Millar, co-creator of Kick-Ass and Kingsman) leaves you to make sense of the mess, although this time there are some encouraging clues. Kingsman focuses on a fusty British secret service comprising handsomely suited gents who call themselves "tailors" and take pride in not having their heroics make the papers. After a Kingsman dies in the field, spectacularly, the organization -- exemplified by Colin Firth and headed, of course, by Michael Caine -- must bring in new blood, a batch of promising teenagers who have to survive deadly spy-game training. If you wonder why Kingsman's potential recruits are all white, or why the movie blasts its lone heroic female character out to space for the last couple reels, Vaughn and the studio have a wise-ass defense: Blame the British aristocracy! Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson is the funniest Bond villain since the one Albert Brooks played on The Simpsons.