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Kingsman: The Secret Service ***1/2

James Bond Meets "Men In Black" In This Top-Notch Action Pic

Is it worth $10? Yes

Matthew Vaughn, the man behind “Stardust,” “Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class” and now “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” has a panache all his own, and his movies are deliciously cinematic because of it. Here we are in mid February and we have a legit contender to make scores of “Best of 2015” lists come December.

This is not to say “Kingsman” will be an Oscar nominee. It’s not that type of movie – it’s too darn fun. It’s about a top-secret intelligence agency called the “Kingsman” that works independently of governments. Think “Men In Black” by way of James Bond and you’ll get the idea. The Kingsman’s officers assume code names from Arthurian folklore, including Galahad (Colin Firth), Merlin (Mark Strong), and of course the fearless leader, Arthur (Michael Caine).

But they need a new Lancelot, so they recruit. Galahad’s protégée is Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a fallen comrade who’s a teenager and rebellious. The training involves a series of death-defying tasks, highlighted by a group of six jumping out of an airplane, and then being told one of them doesn’t have a parachute. In a lesser movie another trainee, Roxy (Sophie Cookson), would’ve been a love interest, but she’s too strong a character to be just another pretty face.

The mission: Stop a lisping Internet billionaire named Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) from tricking people (via mind control) into killing one another. Valentine’s henchwoman, a nasty vixen named Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), has knives instead of lower legs, which we quickly learn gives her the ability to split a person in two with one kick.

I think I have a man crush on director Matthew Vaughn, who also co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass”). Three reasons: 1) His stories are intricately woven tapestries of flawed individuals as they struggle to make a difference against a more-powerful foe. It’s not quite David vs. Goliath, but Vaughn’s antagonists are so imposing when compared to his protagonists that it’s always a joy to watch his heroes persevere. 2) Vaughn edits action cleanly and with superb command of content. Sometimes he uses fast motion, sometimes slow motion, doesn’t matter. What matters is that each choreographed move is clear and with purpose, thereby allowing us to feel the impact and enjoy the chaotic, cartoonish brutality. Some directors cut so quickly you can barely tell what’s happening, or worse stage fights in dark rooms so they can hide poor training and execution. Not Vaughn. 3) His flair in making the screen come alive, either through music, visual effects or another filmmaking technique, is stellar. The effects here are fun and nicely complement the action, as does the pop-music infused soundtrack. And you will never – and I mean NEVER – hear a better use of Elgar’s “Pomp & Circumstance” than what you have here, and it has nothing to do with a graduation. 

Including “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” I have yet to see a Matthew Vaughn movie I haven’t enthusiastically enjoyed. With his assured auteurship the screen comes vibrantly alive in a way that many filmmakers aspire to and few achieve. Aren’t experiences like this why we go to the movies?

Did you know?
Vaughn chose to direct this film instead of “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” 

Buy tickets to Kingsman: The Secret Service now!