If you're reading this review, you've probably read a few others in your day, and a number of them have likely mentioned tone. Tone's a tricky thing (like "chemistry"), and contrary to what some may think, not just an excuse critics make for not liking a movie. Take "Kingsman: The Secret Service," which chooses, with gusto, style over substance.
Loosely adapted by writer-director Matthew Vaughn and his screenwriting partner Jane Goldman from a comic book by writer Mark Millar, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" is pretty much a spy remake of "Kick-Ass," Vaughn and Goldman's 2010 adaptation of Millar's tale of a comic book fan who decides against all odds to become a super-hero. Like "Kick Ass," "Secret Service" doubles down on glib ultraviolence while pressing buttons of class-consciousness and teasing out pop culture allusions and self-aware witticisms. By this time, though, the postmodernism has been played out.
Colin Firth plays Harry Hart, a well-tailored super spy in the vein of "The Avengers" (the British one, don't you know) or "The Ipcress File." Hart works for an "independent international intelligence agency" called Kingsman, which finds itself in need of a new recruit when a top agent bites the dust. In part answering for a familial debt, Hart selects for his protégé Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton, unfortunately as bland as his "chav" character), then guides him through training and into active service as Kingsman battles the radical environmentalist madman Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a Bondian baddie.
Raise your hand if you've seen a James Bond parody before. Chances are you couldn't count the ones you've seen with all your fingers and toes. "Kingsman" includes its own hilarious Bond mini-parody (kudos to actor Jack Davenport) embedded within its feature-length ode to British spy movies of the '60s, '70s and '80s, but the spy-flick pastiching feels long in the tooth by now. Vaughn's oft-enjoyable fantasy has the same benefit as New England weather: If you don't like it, wait five minutes. Besides an endearingly ass-kicking Firth and an amusingly lisping Jackson, we get erstwhile movie-spy Michael Caine as a spy boss, Mark "Luke Skywalker" Hamill as a professor in danger and plenty of spectacular (though cartoony) fight sequences -- plus a jaw-dropping long take of digitally assisted parkour.
For all its endearing British-ness, its halfhearted attack on class snobbery and its Tarantinoid self-referential "cool," "Kingsman" lacks the freshness of "Kick-Ass"' subject and approach. All the mayhem is ultimately exhausting, and yes, tonally off-putting, as Vaughn's capacity for sincerity takes a back seat to fetishized, glamorized violence.
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. Two hours, 9 minutes.