The spy genre has been a staple of fiction for decades. From Jason Bourne, Simon Templar to the most famous spy of all, James Bond, the world of espionage has been ripe for fantastical fables. In 2012, comic book authority, Mark Millar created his own take on the spy genre with The Secret Service , a six issue miniseries, designed to parody but also pay tribute to the classic Bond films and other spy thrillers. The story follows Gary London, a down on his luck teen, living on a British council estate with his mother, until his uncle gives him the opportunity to join MI6 and become a superspy. In 2015, a film version was released, entitled Kingsman: The Secret Service , directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Taron Egerton in the main role. The film is only loosely based on the comic, however, although it features the same overall plot.
The Setup: (Comic)
Gary London is a young man, living on benefits with his mother and abusive boyfriend in a London council flat. Gary lives a directionless life until his enigmatic uncle decides to recruit him into MI6. Meanwhile, celebrities are being kidnapped around the world, leaving the intelligence organisation befuddled, unaware of the real danger threatening to envelop the Earth.
The Setup: (Movie)
Gary "Eggsy" Unwin lives an unfulfilled life with his mother and her abusive boyfriend on a London council estate. When arrested for stealing a car, Eggsy calls a number, given to him by agent Harry Hart (a.k.a. Galahad) years before and is released. Soon after, Eggsy finds himself in the world of Kingsman, an independent intelligence agency, uncovering a plot threatening the human race.
The Secret Service was written as a tribute to the classic spy films and TV series of the 1960s and 70s, of which Millar had great affection for. The comic examines a young man's fantasy of becoming a secret agent, with promises of seducing women and saving the world. The comic, while not as visceral in its visuals in comparison to some of Millar's other work such as Kick-Ass and Wanted , does riff on the spy genre, mixing parody with an astute fondness. Kingsman: The Secret Service came into fruition when Millar met Vaughn in a bar discussing spy movies, reflecting that the genre had become too serious, as such the pair deciding to bring back the fun and humour using Millar's comic as a foundation.
In the comic, the agents work directly for MI6 and after Jack London is contacted by his sister, Sharon to get her son, Gary released from prison after stealing a car; Jack reluctantly agrees to use his national security card to have his nephew released. It’s at this moment that Jack decides to take a greater interest in Gary's well-being. Recognising much of himself in Gary, Jack reveals to his nephew that he is actually a secret agent and gives Gary the opportunity to become one himself, sending the young man to an elite training institute. Meanwhile, Jack talks with Sir Giles, the head of MI6, about the bizarre celebrity kidnappings across the world. Jack discusses with Rupert Greaves, the head trainer about Gary's progress, which is excellent, although he has yet to perform an assassination. Gary later proves his worth in an undercover assignment, killing a number of street thugs and saving a colleague in the process. Despite Gary's emerging ability, his fellow trainees make fun of him for his impoverished background, compared to the affluent status of Gary's peers. Overhearing this mockery, Gary is humiliated and quits MI6 training. Jack catches wind of this and offers Gary another chance as Jack also came from humble beginnings. Gary is able to display his resourcefulness in an assignment, which involves him escaping from Columbia with a drug lord, demonstrating that he has what it takes to become an agent.
Intelligence reports later discover that the missing celebrities are part of a scheme to cull the Earth’s population, orchestrated by Dr James Arnold, a wealthy cellphone entrepreneur, who plans to use satellites to manipulate people's brainwaves to become savage and kill each other. Arnold is a proponent of the Gaia Theory, believing that the Earth is cleansing the population through natural disasters, with the only way to stop this being through a systematic depopulation of the planet. During an operation where the uncle and nephew team track down Arnold in Cannes, Jack is shockingly killed after seducing Arnold's girlfriend to gather more information about Arnold's plans. Gary returns to MI6 and informs Greaves of what happened, whereby Greaves reveals he has been working for Arnold all along and offers Gary a chance to join him. Gary refuses and Greaves attempts to poison him, but ends up poisoning himself when Gary switches drinking glasses. Gary rounds up the other recruits to lead an assault mission on Arnold's lair, taking Greaves’ plane. The team attack the base, freeing celebrities like David Beckham and Pierce Brosnan, with Gary ending up in a fight with Gazelle (who has prosthetic steel legs), Arnold's henchmen and former MI6 agent himself. Arnold activates the satellite signal and waits for the mass slaughter to begin, however, one of Gary's colleagues reroutes the signal, causing everyone to be overcome with love instead of hate. In revenge for his fallen uncle, Gary shoots Arnold in the head. Following his uncle’s funeral, Gary returns to MI6 headquarters, where he’s briefed by Sir Giles about trouble brewing in Moscow.
In order to direct the movie, Vaughn was forced to drop out of directing X-Men: Days of Future Past , a disappointment for the director as he had bought that franchise back to prominence with X-Men: First Class in 2011. Vaughn co-wrote the screenplay with scribe Jane Goldman for the movie version of The Secret Service , which would only loosely follow the comic, keeping the same basic plot, but with significant divergences. The film was retitled Kingsman: The Secret Service , reflecting a number of changes between the comic and movie. Namely the agents would no longer work for MI6, but instead for Kingsman, an independent intelligence organisation. Furthermore, the agents go by Arthurian codenames (e.g. Arthur, Lancelot etc), giving the organisation a sense of history (and perhaps some pretentiousness). Not surprisingly, "Arthur" is the head of Kingsman and is also revealed to be in league with the main villain, dying the same way Greaves does in the comic, when Eggsy swaps the drinking glass containing the poison. Entry into Kingsman only takes place following the death of a member, with numerous trainees in competition for that position (in the film, Eggsy competes with several other trainees for the role of "Lancelot"). Gary goes by his nickname, "Eggsy" and the character of Jack London is replaced by Harry Hart (Galahad), and like Jack dies, but is no longer related to Eggsy. Moreover, Eggsy’s father was a Kingsman agent, who sacrificed his life to save Hart on an assignment. Hart’s sense of guilt is the driving force of the film, which eventually brings him and Eggsy together (Eggsy uses a number on the back of the medal that Hart gave to his mother to get himself released from jail). Mark Hamill has a cameo role as Dr James Arnold, who is no longer the main antagonist (in the comic, Hamill appears as himself, but is killed in a botched rescue attempt). Arnold’s role is transferred to Richmond Valentine, played by Samuel L Jackson, who like Arnold in the comic, has the same villainous motivation, kidnapping celebrities and "saving" them from his planned population culling using specially designed Sim cards to manipulate brainwaves. Those in collaboration with Valentine are fitted with implants designed to protect them from the satellite signal, however, this is later turned against them, resulting in a "comedic" death sequence as people's heads from around the world explode.
Kingsman: The Secret Service , while making significant departures from the source material, holds up on its own has an entertaining film that works alongside the original comic. In The Secret Service , Millar has written a love letter to classic spy fiction in the British spy tradition, where the final act takes place in the villain’s lair (inside of a mountain no less). With respect to the differences between the comic and movie, the only change that felt disappointing was removing the familial relationship between Eggsy and Harry. In the comic, it is genuinely shocking when Jack is abruptly killed (magnified in graphic fashion by way of Dave Gibbons’ artwork) on assignment with Gary, as Millar goes to great lengths to illustrate the growing relationship between uncle and nephew. In the film, when Hart dies at the hands of Valentine, it feels hollow and formulaic since Hart only exists as a mentor to Eggsy, with no real emotional connection between the two. All in all, both film and comic work equally well. If you're a fan of Millar's other work and his hyper stylised narratives, then The Secret Service and Vaughn‘s Kingsman: The Secret Service , (whose own sensibilities are perfectly matched with Millar’s visceral eye) are a blast. Let's hope the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle , scheduled for release in late 2017, continues the same trend of over the top, heartfelt spy action.