'Kingsman: The Secret Service': What the Critics Are Saying

Matthew Vaughn's comic book adaptation stars Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine and Taron Egerton.

Colin Firth stars as a stealthy spy who recruits a troubled teen, played by Taron Egerton, into his elite espionage agency in the action comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Directed, co-produced and co-written by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass), the comic book adaptation also features Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill and Sofia Boutella.

The 20th Century Fox film is expected to gross $30 million or more over the four-day Valentine's Day and Presidents Day weekend, though it will face stiff competition from Sam Taylor-Johnson's Fifty Shades of Grey, also hitting theaters this Friday.

See what top critics are saying about Kingsman: The Secret Service:

The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden writes, "As he did in X-Men: First Class, Vaughn strikes an energetic balance between cartoonish action and character-driven drama, though the tinge here is darker, with a story that hinges on matters of climate change, the insidiousness of technology and the class divide. The mix grows less seamless and the story loses oomph as it barrels toward its doomsday countdown, but the cast's dash and humor never flag." Particularly, "Egerton captures the character's resentment and suspicion as well as his longing to make something of himself and to be like Harry [Firth], who can coolly lay waste to a barroom of hooligans between sips of his pint. Beyond the unexpected physicality that Firth brings to the part, he imbues Harry with a bone-dry wit."

Additionally, "just as the cast combines masterly screen vets and impressive newcomers, the film embraces old-school undercover sensibilities while updating them. A self-contained adventure, as opposed to a franchise-launching introductory chapter, the screenplay by Vaughn and Jane Goldman is based on a comic book series by Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar and Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons (published by Marvel imprint Icon). Like its source material, it uses pop culture references to sharp effect. My Fair Lady, for example, provides an unlikely punch line. And there's more than a touch of Bond — James Bond — in the globe-trotting, London-based escapades."

New York Daily News' Elizabeth Weitzman says Vaughn "has a great eye for comic book unconventionality and keen instincts for marrying sly observations with brazenly blunt action. He aims to both undercut and update spy clichés, and his cast … is absolutely in on the joke." She adds that "things get pushed too far, and the movie's cruelest scenes make clear that no one set any limits here. ... The political statements, which veer between liberal and conservative depending on convenience, are aggressively delivered but muddled and amoral. The violence flies repellently over the top, and the finale features an extended joke so insanely sexist it sends us out on a seriously sour note."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw notes, "It’s a modern-day twist on the '60s tradition of Bond, on spoofs such as Our Man Flint and, of course, on bowler-hatted, brolly-twirling John Steed from The Avengers. Consciously or not, however, it’s an ungainly throwback to the lad-mag '90s, those suited-and-booted fashion spreads, and the smug mockney-geezer world of uncool Britannia and Guy Ritchie. ... It is a film forever demanding to be congratulated on how 'stylish' it is."

Time Out London's Tom Huddleston writes that the film "hews close to the formula Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman established in their superficially similar Kick-Ass: hyperspeed action, pithy one-liners and grotesque ultraviolence. Firth plays it straight up with a smirky twist, Egerton is a likeable frontman and there are winning cameos from Michael Caine as a shifty bureau chief. ... But like Kick-Ass, Kingsman can leave a sour taste. The script has a penchant for nasty, lad's-mag humour, while attempts to play on timely themes of privilege versus poverty fall flat thanks to a crass, reactionary depiction of working-class life."

The New York Observer's Rex Reed calls it "expensive, derivative and boring as mattress ticking masquerading as designer fabric. ... But the real sadness is watching Firth lower his standards. After so many astonishing performances in films of great merit, it’s dismaying to see him in drivel like this. He’s cool, his suit never wrinkles even in the most graphically derivative action scenes, and I think it’s safe to assume he got a sizeable paycheck. But Kingsman: The Secret Service is a sad pilfering of his classic talents."

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