While the marketing campaign doesn’t make a huge deal out of it, this weekend’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is, in fact, a comic book adaptation. It’s based on a six-issue limited series called The Secret Service, a 2012 comic written by Kick-Ass writer Mark Millar (whose work gets optioned by studios so often that it’s easy to call his comics movie pitches), with art by legendary Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons.
Even though the broad strokes are all there, Kingsman is a very loose adaptation, with dozens of changes to the source material. It’s enough to consider the comic and movie entirely different stories—knowing one won’t necessarily ruin the other, although the changes made to the film are almost all for the better. Here are five of the biggest ones. Spoilers ahoy!
The Kingsman. The first and most obvious difference is in each version’s title. While this may seem minor, the film’s name is actually a major deviation from the comics. In The Secret Service, the titular spy organization is actually MI6, the real-life British intelligence agency. In the film, this is changed to The Kingsman, an independant superspy organization modeled after the Knights of the Round Table. Because of this, many of the trappings of the organization—the gadgets, the codenames, “Manners Maketh Man”—are all things original to the film.
The leads. Similarly, the backstory for the two lead characters is changed significantly. In the comics, the characters that Colin Firth and Taron Egerton play are actually family—Gary (who goes by the nickname Eggsy for most of the film) is still a working class kid who can’t stay out of trouble, but his introduction to espionage comes from his uncle Jack London, whom everyone believes is a government pencil pusher rather than an MI6 agent. London gets tired of bailing Gary out of jail, and offers him a chance to make something of himself. In Kingsman, we’re introduced to Gary’s father, who sacrifices his life to save a number of agents—one of which is Harry Hart (Colin Firth’s character, the film version of Jack London). As a result, he visits Gary’s family and promises them a favor—one the teenaged Gary (now Eggsy) calls in from jail. When his former protégé dies in the field, Hart nominates Eggsy as a candidate to take his place.
Spy school. This leads to the next big change: spy boot camp. While the comic does include a spy training camp, it’s really just meant to put Eggsy through his paces—since there isn’t a hole in the roster to be filled, there’s no competition, and we don’t spend any time getting to know any other spies-in-training in the comic. By introducing the concept of a standing order of knights, Kingsman becomes a very different sort of story—James Bond by way of X-Men, as opposed to the more straightforward tough love of Uncle Jack dropping Gary into impossible situations.
The villains. Early in the movie, we meet Dr. Arnold, a scientist who put forth the idea that Earth is a living organism and humanity is a plague upon it—and that global warming is just a planetary fever. He’s played by Mark Hamill, and he’s the subject of a failed rescue mission towards the beginning of the film. Here’s where things get crazy—in the comic, that’s actually supposed to be Mark Hamill.
Dr. Arnold, is in fact, the name of the comic’s villain (replaced wholesale in the film to be Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmond Valentine). While the broad strokes of the Evil Plot are the same in both the comic and the movie, the inciting incident is actually the kidnapping of celebrities who worked on science fiction projects like Star Wars or Alien. As the villain of the comic, Dr. Arnold is a huge sci-fi fan planning mass genocide; he wants all of his favorite pop culture icons to survive the apocalypse he’s going to bring about. In the film, Valentine does something similar, but is more pragmatic, choosing to spare the world leaders who adopt his ideology.
Oh, and Valentine’s henchwoman, the sword-legged Gazelle? She was originally a man with (swordless) prosthetic legs who was a threat because he was former Secret Service, and knew every tactic.
The action. This one is a bit weird. As a comic book, The Secret Service is not very stylish in its presentation. It’s rather workmanlike, with simple panel layouts and straightforward action; crisp, with linework as clear as a bespoke suit. Kingsman is the exact opposite: frenetic, with a genuine sense of momentum in its cinematography. Kingsman bursts with a style and attitude that’s reminiscent of Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, another Mark Millar adaptation that arguably feels more Mark Millar than The Secret Service does. There’s a joy to the film’s action that makes it feel more Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer than James Bond. It’s loads of fun, and probably the biggest difference between it and its source material.
Bonus: That sex joke. While some may have found the anal sex joke at the end of the film a turn-off, it’s actually much better than one of the more cringeworthy parts of the comic—in which Eggsy’s trainers spend a bit of time imparting to Eggsy the importance of seduction, briefly diving into some gross pick-up artist rhetoric. In fact, the film cuts out this aspect of their training completely—when the trainees are asked to win over a target at a club, they fail miserably and end up drugged.