Matthew Vaughn, the director 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, which Vaughn chose to direct instead of X-Men: Days of Future Past, 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 "Kingsmen" that works independently of governments. Think Men in Black by way of James Bond and you'll get the idea. The Kingsmen'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 protégé 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 Vaughn, who also co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass). Three reasons:
One: 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.
Two: 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.
Three: He has an undeniable flair for making the screen come alive, through music, visual effects, or another filmmaking technique. 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.
I have yet to see a Matthew Vaughn movie I haven't enthusiastically enjoyed. With his assured auteurship, his work has the kind of vibrancy that many filmmakers aspire to and few achieve. Aren't experiences like this why we go to the movies?