One of Britain’s top film directors working today, Matthew Vaughn, has really done it all. Gangster film: check. Family adventure: check. Superhero film: check. Spy movie: check. He’s got an impressive body of work spanning across many different genres and his films have been successful not just in Britain but around the world, too. He is certainly a man of many talents.
Vaughn began his film career producing the 1996 British thriller film The Innocent Sleep starring Michael Gambon before producing the gangster films of his close friend, Guy Ritchie, such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. It wasn’t until 2004 that he took on directing with his debut film Layer Cake starring Daniel Craig as the nameless drug dealer trying to get out of the business. Layer Cake was stylish, violent and gritty and it’s argued as one of the main reasons why Daniel Craig landed the role of James Bond.
Layer Cake was a hit with critics and now Matthew Vaughn had proven himself, what was to be the next step? It’s only logical that his next film would be a swashbuckling fantasy-romance film with an all-star cast. Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the most logical next step for Vaughn, but Stardust is great fun and has so much wonder to it. It’s got a fantastic cast including Mark Strong, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Claire Danes as well as young Charlie Cox and Henry Cavill in their pre-superhero days. And it does of course feature Robert De Niro, one of cinema’s greatest actors, dancing in drag. If Vaughn’s violent, brutal debut Layer Cake wasn’t the film for you, then perhaps Stardust is given how full of heart it is and it’s just a downright great time. There’s so much fun to be had in this adventurous film.
By 2010 superhero films were coming into fashion, with films like Iron Man and The Dark Knight becoming big hits. So, Vaughn took his hand in bringing the comic book Kick-Ass to the big screen. He was rejected by countless studios, all of which telling him to remove Hit-Girl (played by a 13-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz) or make her 18. However, Vaughn went ahead and financed the film independently and ended up selling it to Universal for more than he had originally asked them for. Hit-Girl was one of the highlights of the film with her foul language and bloody violence, proving that it was definitely a wise move for Vaughn to keep her in it. Kick-Ass was fun, and it contained a more grounded setting for a superhero film but it still contained lots of blood and action. The film was a big hit with critics and spawned a sequel (although Kick-Ass 2 wasn’t directed by Vaughn). After Kick-Ass, Vaughn now had three successful and completely different films under his belt.
Whilst his next film X-Men: First Class was another comic book film, it felt totally different to Kick-Ass. The film opens with a scene set in Auschwitz, immediately telling the audience that this is going to be nothing like any of his previous films. All the blood, foul language and a lot of the humour that was in his previous work was now gone with First Class. But that didn’t stop Vaughn from making one of the best superhero films of the 21st century. First Class had the really difficult task of re-establishing the X-Men franchise with the young versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), an especially difficult task given how poorly received the two previous X-Men films X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine had been. The film was a big hit with it grossing over double its budget and Vaughn showed that he could make two completely different, but high quality, superhero films.
It’s at this point that he still hadn’t had enough of making comic-book films, but in classic Matthew Vaughn fashion, he once again went and made something completely different. His next film was the action spy comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service adapted from Mark Miller and Dave Gibbon’s 2012 graphic novel. It’s packed full of humour, action and blood. Anyone that’s seen it will instantly remember the brutal bloodbath that occurs in the church amongst other unforgettable scenes. It’s got a stellar cast with Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Michael Caine and Samuel L. Jackson but it’s great fun and a brilliant piece of entertainment. It’s got a similar level of violence and blood to Kick-Ass but the humour here is different and it feels so distinct from his previous comic book films. Kingsman has a spoofy nature to it, taking the mickey out of the James Bond films but it does so without being completely stupid and ridiculous like the Austin Powers films for example. Despite the Britishness of the film, it was a big hit in the UK but also in America and around the world which led to a sequel being made.
Unlike with Kick-Ass 2, this time Vaughn stuck around to direct the sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which was released in September 2017. Vaughn’s first sequel was met with mixed reviews however, much like with the first film, the action scenes were praised, and the film has some really enjoyable moments. The problem was with the script. The film makes some bad choices, particularly in (spoiler alert!) bringing Colin Firth’s Harry Hart back from the dead. It undermined his really powerful and unexpected death from the first film for no real reason. That being said, despite a few issues, The Golden Circle is great fun and packed full of entertaining scenes. Even with the reviews not being as good, it ended up grossing more money worldwide than its predecessor and the Kingsman series was a big hit around the world.
It seems like Matthew Vaughn may have finally found a genre and a type of film that he wants to stick to and make more of as in June 2018 a new Kingsman film was announced. The third film in the franchise, this time a prequel set in World War I, will once again be directed by Vaughn and The King’s Man is currently due to be released in December 2021. Despite this being a prequel (so we won’t see Taron Egerton’s Eggsy showing up), there’s still an all-star cast including Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Daniel Brühl, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and many other familiar faces. The film’s been delayed many times, some due to the pandemic, others not, with it originally being scheduled for cinemas in November 2019 but for now, we still have a few more months to wait to find out how the Kingsman agency was formed and what happened to it during WWI. But for now, we’ve had a few trailers to whet our appetite.
As we now wait in anticipation for The King’s Man, we can only look back in awe at how impressive Matthew Vaughn’s filmography is. Not only has he made countless films of such a high quality, but they are almost all from such a broad range of genres and he’s excelled at making so many different types of films. Despite many of his films having a very strong sense of Britishness to them, he’s still found success at home and abroad. Whatever you want to watch, be it a spy film, a superhero film, a fantasy adventure or a gangster film, Matthew Vaughn has made it.