Kingman: The Secret Service is a very genre-savvy movie. It’s the sort of comedy that isn’t quite parody but still pokes fun at familiar conventions of a certain category of cinema. Characters here know the James Bond franchise all too well, and sometimes that allows them to come off more realistic than what we get in a 007 movie, at least in terms of their relationship to the modern world and the logic of some of their actions. Yet Kingsman is also often a cartoon compared to even the silliest of the Bond installments. It’s somewhere between a real Bond and an Austin Powers.
In addition to its obvious allusions to the king of spy franchises, Kingsman features a few direct and indirect references to other movies that I’d recommend any fan go and check out afterward. As usual, I’m not suggesting these are all great works of cinema. They’re just worth being familiar with in relation to this new release. I’ve decided not to include the perfectly pertinent xXx, which was the equivalently fresh and younger take on the spy genre 13 years ago and even co-stars Samuel L. Jackson. It was one of my most-recommended picks of last year, so we should retire it for a bit.
The following list of 12 movies (with a bonus item) may involve slight SPOILERS for Kingsman and the selections themselves, though in the latter case I’ve only mentioned plot points that are so old they’re basically iconic or at least widely known. I recommend seeing the very entertaining new movie before taking a look below anyway.
We have to begin the list by acknowledging that director Matthew Vaughn is, with Kingsman, once again adapting a comic book by Mark Millar (with Dave Gibbons). The last time was with the amateur superhero-based Kick-Ass movies, which includes Kick-Ass 2 and possibly still another sequel and/or spin-off in the future. Vaughn co-wrote the screenplays for Kingsman and the first Kick-Ass with Jane Goldman, and on both (yet not on the Kick-Ass sequel) he worked with fight choreographer Bradley James Allan, who you can thank for the best scenes in the new movie (more on that in a moment).
Trading Places (1983)
One of the most direct movie references in Kingsman is to this John Landis comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd as class-swapped pawns in a social experiment, which Colin Firth’s character mentions to Taron Egerton as having a plot where a poor and less civilized character is taken under the wing of and trained by someone of upper class status. Just like their own situation. The other two that Firth’s Harry Hart names are Pretty Woman and Luc Besson’s Nikita. Egerton’s Eggsy hasn’t seen any of them. Later in the movie, though, he indicates maybe he has seen it since by quoting the memorable exchange of “Looking good … feeling good” with Mark Strong’s character.
My Fair Lady (1964)
After Harry gives his three fairly modern movie references, he’s surprised to learn that not only has Eggsy not seen them but the young recruit instead suggests this classic 50-year-old musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” To drive home the parallel, Harry is the new movie’s Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) even down to the alliterative name, while Eggsy is Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), the cockney flower seller taken in to learn proper manners and diction.
The Ladies Man (2000)
Speaking of diction, one of Kingsman’s bigger jokes involves the speech impediment of Jackson’s character, Richmond Valentine, and how he keeps insisting that the British characters are the ones who difficult to understand. Given that Firth is his opposition and regularly the butt of Valentine’s comments about British accents, The King’s Speech also came to mind. But every time Valentine opened his mouth I would recall this Saturday Night Live spin-off starring Tim Meadows as a casanova who has apparently made up for his speech issues by being a classy love machine. Jackson has said that he gave Valentine the impediment to show that he too overcame and compensated for it in other ways through his genius.
The same year as The Ladies Man, this M. Night Shyamalan movie was released and co-starred Jackson as its own evil mastermind. It would seem the actor looked back to the turn of the millennium when developing the character of Valentine. In Unbreakable his Mr. Glass is also very genre savvy, being a villain suited for a comic book who also owns a comic art gallery. In fact, it was the comics that influenced him, and maybe like how Valentine admits to dreaming of being James Bond when he grew up, Mr. Glass had dreamed of being a superhero. Both wound up being on the other side, and Mr. Glass too had an impairment to overcome and overcompensate for: fragile bones.
Tokyo Gore Police (2008)
As far as comparisons to Valentine’s henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella) go, her prosthetic blade-legs are the necessary focal point. In mainstream movies, the best equivalent is Rose McGowan’s character in Planet Terror (the Grindhouse installment), but that’s a machine gun leg. For similar weaponry, we have to look to the Japanese. There’s an eventually blade-legged character in the One Piece anime franchise, namely in the film Strong World. Far more insane, though, is the four-blade-legged fighter in this very violent feature in which a mad scientist has created all kinds of freaky mutant “engineers.” Just watch below.
The World’s End (2013)
There’s nothing as insane as Tokyo Gore Police in Kingsman, but the new movie can still get pretty gory in its still quite spectacular set pieces. Many, including our own Rob Hunter, have mentioned the brilliantly choreographed bathroom fight from this bodysnatcher sci-fi comedy when declaring the church massacre in Kingsman its first great successor. Like Vaughn, director Edgar Wright likes to employ stunt coordinator Bradley James Allan for his fights. Allan has also been promoted to second-unit director by both filmmakers, holding that gig for The World’s End and now Kingsman.
I probably don’t need to include a James Bond movie on this list, but I’d like to just because I thought of this one specifically thanks to Kingsman having a sequence set in Kentucky. That’s the location of the church scene in Kingsman and of Gert Frobe’s titular villain’s stud farm in Goldfinger, as well as the place he plans to rob: Fort Knox. Sean Connery as Bond is flown there by Goldfinger and his henchwoman, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) after one of the more iconic slow-death/torture bits in the 007 franchise, the sort alluded to in Kingsman’s last Kentucky moment when Valentine subvert’s the expectation and just shoots Harry in the head.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
If Firth looked at home in scenes at the Kingsman headquarter, that could be because its location is the same estate used for the Darcys’ home in this adaptation of Helen Fielding’s popular modernization of “Pride and Prejudice.” I’m having trouble remembering if the actor would have set foot at Wrotham Park this time, though, or if the enormous English country house was merely employed for exterior establishing shots he doesn’t appear in. Either way, the connection is nearly as fun as Firth’s own casting in Bridget Jones’s Diary as the Mr. Darcy role after he starred in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries as the actual Mr. Darcy. Other notable movies shot at Wrotham include Gosford Park, the 2011 Jane Eyre and the 2012 Great Expectations.
Star Wars (1977)
I swore I’d never feature this movie on one of these lists. There are a few movies (probably literally only three) that one doesn’t need to spotlight and recommend in this fashion, and George Lucas’s initial installment of the most famous sci-fi movie franchise of all time is among them. But Kingsman has two elements associating it with Star Wars that I at least wanted to point out. One is, of course, Mark Hamill among the cast as a professor kidnapped and briefly controlled by Valentine. Hamill doesn’t play himself, though, even though the abductee role in Millar’s “The Secret Service” comics is actually the real Mark Hamill. The second element is the “Obi-Wan Moment,” in which the mentor character, Harry, is killed off after he’s basically fulfilled his duties training the Luke Skywalker type, Eggsy. Both of the apprentices even witness the death of their teacher and shout, “Nooooooo!” Jackson is also a part of the Star Wars prequels, but he’s not significant to this one.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
While nowhere close to either the level of parody or wild humor of a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker movie, Kingsman did remind me of this first Naked Gun installment thanks to their similar use of a remote-control mechanism that, when turned on, causes unsuspecting people to become killers. I guess there’s as much of a connection to the sequel, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear regarding the kidnapping of a scientist specializing in the environment and global warming. I can’t find a clip of Reggie Jackson trying to kill Queen Elizabeth II, so here’s a great montage that’s near that moment:
The Man With the Rubber Head (1901)
The exploding heads sequence in Kingsman is pretty amazing, but if you’re a fan of film history you might recognize that it’s a very, very, very old gag. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, nor does it dilute the classic exploding head moments in Scanners, Chopping Mall, Deadly Friend and many other movies. Here’s the likely first instance of an exploding head in cinema, though. And of course it comes from special effects pioneer Georges Melies. That’s the filmmaker’s own head being literally blown up to the point of blowing up, too. The film is also known by the title The India Rubber Head.
Bonus: Pop (2012)
Egerton is a pretty new face on the big screen, and he hasn’t been on television (where he’s known for the series The Smoke) that long, either. His first IMDb credit is from three years ago with this short film, which is scripted by a different guy named Sam Jackson, and I doubt it’s available in any form other than the trailer below. Pop appears to be a student film from when director Edward Hicks was at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Egerton looks even younger and less polished than he does in Kingsman.
Related Topics: Kingsman