Samuel L. Jackson

Photo Credit: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

After years of horrendous spoof films such as “Scary Movie 5” and “A Haunted House,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service” serves as an exhilarating, hilarious revitalization for the genre. The film’s stunning action, witty humor and enjoyable performances make it an early candidate for most enjoyable picture of the year.  

After a tough street kid named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is caught joyriding, he gets bailed out by a mysterious and well-dressed man who claims to have known Eggsy’s deceased father. The mystery man, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), sees potential in Eggsy and reveals he worked with Eggsy’s father as an agent for the Kingsmen — an espionage group dedicated to stopping anyone who threatens the world. Deciding he has nothing to lose, Eggsy begins his training as a Kingsman. Meanwhile, Harry investigates the activities of tech tycoon Richman Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his assistant Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). As Eggsy fits into his role as a Kingsman agent, he and Harry must thwart Richman’s plan to unleash chaos upon the world.

Director Matthew Vaughn, who directed the ultra-violent superhero satire “Kick-Ass,” returns with more grisly mayhem. The violence is indeed bloody, but the humor in Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s script evens out the ridiculous body count. The film’s wit can make the goriest scenes funny, including a sequence where the heads of several dignitaries under Richman’s control explode in synchronized fashion. Though he includes several graphic scenes, it never feels like the director takes the violence too far.

Another of the film’s more enjoyable aspects is its creativity. It’s clear the gadgets in the film take inspirations from the wonderful toys that James Bond uses in his war on crime. From exploding cigarette lighters to bulletproof umbrellas, the technology pay homage to classic spy technology while also giving the film a special touch. Of course, the Kingsman agents, who prove that it’s possible to fight crime while impeccably dressed, are a deeply amusing part of the movie. Although inspired by other fictional espionage groups, the Kingsmen feel fully fleshed out.  

The action is beautifully choreographed and expertly shot. Unlike quickly-edited fights in mediocre action flicks, it’s incredibly easy to absorb the frantic motions in every brawl. Every punch is shot for maximum clarity. Vaughn possesses a sixth sense for organizing shootouts, so the audience sees every bullet hit its mark. The greatest example of his mastery involves a scene where Firth decimates waves of crazed people in a church, using everything from knives to a pipe organ.

Egerton turns in a solid performance as Eggsy, whose transformation from street thug to suave Kingsman agent is well-paced and investing. Firth shows off his comedic edge as the cultured yet deadly Harry. There’s something amusing about an esteemed Oscar winner knocking out teeth and breaking arms. The villains are just as cleverly written and entertaining as the heroes. Jackson is charming and hilarious as the scheming Valentine, all while speaking with a lisp that would make Mike Tyson proud. Boutella gives a breakout performance as a deadly femme fatale with bionic legs.

“Kingsman” is simply a brilliant comedic film that uses Vaughn’s successful formula of mixing violence with wry humor. It offers memorable characters who never have a boring moment. The action is remarkably fluid and serves as an example of how excellent directing can make tense moments even more exhilarating. A love-letter to both spy and parody films, “Kingsman” serves as one of the most creative and enjoyable films of the year so far.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is a prime example of the growth of the Marvel film series. Just as the first “Captain America” film led into the events of “The Avengers,” “The Winter Soldier” also serves as a setup for larger events to come. Even though the movie connects with a much bigger plot, it still manages to tell an entertaining, self-contained story. “The Winter Soldier” is a fun, thrilling superhero flick that beautifully mixes serious action with funny humor and likeable characters.

After the events of “The Avengers,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles with adapting to life in a modern age while embodying the role of Captain America. He stays loyal to the country by continuing to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. and its head, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Finding a plot in the works to bring S.H.I.E.L.D. down from the inside, Captain America works with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and former soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to stop forces that plan to simultaneously assassinate millions of citizens. Meanwhile, the three are stalked by a mysterious enemy, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who poses a deadly threat to the team.

Marvel films tend to include an appropriate amount of humor in their plots and often use it more naturally than the gritty DC Universe films. “The Winter Soldier” follows this trend, as most of the jokes stick while every subtle, humorous gesture possesses great timing. These action scenes are phenomenal and well-paced while maintaining a constant, pulsing thrill. The action-loaded climax, which takes place on a monstrous Helicarrier, demonstrates the excellent pacing and brutality of each punch. 

The effects, despite relying on an overload of CGI, seem real enough to enhance the setting. The story features a few gimmicky, predicable plot elements, but it unfolds with a smart instinct for audience expectations and is richly entertaining. References to other Marvel heroes and villains are dropped constantly, yet they feel like natural universe-building, not forced synergy. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo show a clear knack for balance as they paint a fun comic book story with heavy action and complex character relationships.

Evans steps up his acting game as Cap, who finds his loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. and his country tested. But it is clear that Johansson and Mackie are the real acting powerhouses. Johansson has Widow pegged as a sardonic, but dangerous, heroine who is enchanting in almost every scene. Mackie, who plays Falcon, is also a humorous and effective character who commands the camera. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, who actually has a larger role in the film than he has had in any other Marvel film, and it seems that he has perfected a formula that keeps his performance of the character from growing stale. Robert Redford plays a big role in the film, dominating as a powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. official. Oddly enough, the titular antagonist is surprisingly underplayed. The Winter Soldier is offered as a small tool of a larger threat. Stan, who played a role in the previous film, portrays him as overly mysterious, and while he looks extremely cool with his robotic armor and lethal persona, he lacks much of a character. The Winter Soldier is more of a force of mayhem than a fully realized villain.

Overall, “The Winter Soldier” is perhaps the best Marvel offering since “The Avengers.” Its great action and fantastic story present pure blockbuster entertainment. Mixed with stellar performances and well placed humor, the film proves that Marvel has succeeded in finding the balance that keeps superhero movies fun without being too gritty or campy. Despite being considered a prequel for next year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “The Winter Soldier” is a great blend of elements that make an incredibly powerful superhero movie.