Director Matthew Vaughn put a fresh spin on an old genre with Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2014. Based on the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the aim was to deliver a 007-style romp with a modern twist. But whereas the Daniel Craig era brought James Bond up to date with a Bourne-esque sensibility, Kingsman took the fun route and placed unemployed youth Taron Egerton at the heart of a flamboyant adventure with a Roger Moore flavour.
Now Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman are back with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a follow-up that doesn’t spare the horses in terms of ludicrous set pieces – indeed, the plot finds Egerton, Colin Firth and co meeting American counterparts Statesman, whose stetson-wearing members wouldn’t look out of place on steeds. Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum join the fun as villainess Julianne Moore wreaks destruction on the stiff upper-lipped spy community.
With its assortment of bulletproof umbrellas and prescription lenses the antics are unmistakably British, inspired by the big screen ethos of Ian Fleming‘s world famous Martini drinker. The Kingsman franchise is a great alternative to the Eon film series but it ain’t the only game in town when it comes to aping an icon. Here are other key examples that bear the mark of Bond without necessarily carrying his name…
THE IPCRESS FILE (1965)
If any character proved an antidote to Bond whilst maintaining his taste for high adventure it was Harry Palmer. Created by novelist Len Deighton, you’d be more likely to find him in the supermarket aisle than the international casino. The Ipcress File, directed by Sidney J. Furie, brought Deighton’s down at heel brand of espionage to life and 007 producer Harry Saltzman played a fine hand casting Michael Caine in the lead.
Having cracked the case of some disappearing scientists, Caine/Palmer went on to several sequels, though the last couple were assigned strictly from your local video store bin. Co-starring in these was Jason Connery, son of Sean, who played his own variation on the superspy in action biopic Spymaker: The Secret Life Of Ian Fleming. Kingsman‘s Matthew Vaughn acknowledged Caine’s influence by not only giving Taron Egerton specs but also casting the man himself as high-ranking Chester King in the first film.
OUR MAN FLINT (1966)
James Bond as we know him first landed in cinemas in the early Sixties to great success, so naturally various “homages” to the secret agent began springing up during that decade. The Americans had their own crack of the whip with the Derek Flint series, in which the tanned and toothsome James Coburn adopted the role of a world-saving tuxedo-filler. Daniel Mann‘s Our Man Flint was soon followed by In Like Flint, at which point the buck stopped for Coburn and his exploits.
In contrast to Harry Palmer’s shabby encounters, Flint battled evil geniuses and came up against wacky plot elements such as weather-control machines. Ironically the latter became a key aspect of disastrous spy adaptation The Avengers (starring Sean Connery) years later. Coburn’s legacy lived on to a certain extent in the shagadelic Austin Powers franchise, where Mike Myers included Michael Caine in his dossier of randy hi-jinks.
CLEOPATRA JONES (1973)
Though debate about whether we’ll see a non-white Bond goes on, the blaxploitation era of American film had the issue covered via a range of releases. Fred Williamson kicked butts around the world in That Man Bolt in 1973 and the same year saw Tamara Dobson arrive to give the opposite sex something to cheer for in Cleopatra Jones, directed by Jack Starrett.
Jones was a faux fashion model with a covert line in crime-busting, though she never forgot her roots in those deprived areas under the thumb of drug lords like Mommy, an equally formidable adversary portrayed by Shelley Winters. The character returned in a disappointing sequel (Cleopatra Jones And The Casino Of Gold) and it would be a while before women were prominent in the genre again. Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron took a step in the right direction a mere 42 years later…!
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)
The ultimate alternative 007 movie ended up showcasing the definitive 007 himself… playing none other than Bond, James Bond! Sean Connery was persuaded to return to the part for Never Say Never Again, in direct competition with successor Roger Moore. How was this possible? Well, writer/producer Kevin McClory owned the story rights to Connery outing Thunderball as he’d developed them alongside Ian Fleming. This enabled him to make a stand-alone Bond movie, something he tried to do again the following decade without success. Director Irvin Kershner called the shots in the first Fleming curio since 1967’s Casino Royale.
In this incarnation, the Walther PPK-wielder was back fighting SPECTRE, represented by the evil Klaus Maria Brandauer, the seductive but deadly Barbara Carrera and Max von Sydow as feline-fancying mastermind Blofeld. Kim Basinger aided Connery in his gadget-brandishing swansong. The movie tipped its hat to the spy’s increasing age, something Moore never worried about, despite being three years older than his rival!
One thing that will never get old however is the desire to ride the coat-tails of this most enduring yet anachronistic of heroes…
Speaking of which, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is out in the UK today. Watch the trailer below: