Since Dirty Harry hit the mean streets, we have become accustomed to seeing men of pensionable age save the day again and again in movie theatres. From Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger to Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis, men who look like they should be at home in their slippers, bouncing their grandchildren on their knee, are instead strapping on the big guns and blasting their way across the big screen. So if fiftysomething Liam Neeson can still get the better of men younger, faster and stronger than he is, then surely we can believe in someone who isn't old enough to vote coming to the rescue. Can a white, working-class teenager from the wrong side of the tracks save the world? This is the premise that Mark Millar puts to the test in Kingsman, about a group of shadowy figures - all men (funny that) - who work below the radar to keep us all safe from harm. Think of a team of James Bond figures and you'll get the general idea.
The Kingsmen are called into action when an out-of-control, twentysomething billionaire starts kidnapping celebrities - and not just any celebrities, but the kind fan boys look up to. Think Mark Hamill and the casts of Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Gallatica. Oh, and Dr Who.
After yet another encounter with the police, Kingsman Jack steps in to rescue his wayward nephew Gary from a life of petty crime and even pettier street brawls. Gary is summarily enrolled in "spy school" where he learns to steal cars and chat up women, among other things. Of course, there are the cool gadgets and cars - but this is James Bond lite.
The poorly educated and socially inept Gary feels like a fish out of water but with his uncle's guidance, he soon learns the tricks of the trade - including how to bring a woman to climax every time. Yes, this really is as lame as it sounds. Kingsman is far from being Mark Millar's finest outing. Indeed, it's hard to believe he would involve himself in this. I read this a week after the Charlie Hedbo killings and it felt very distasteful, to say the least - a masturbatory exercise for boys who like to "play" with guns. And we all know where that can lead.
Kingsmen is very much a boys' own world where humour is in short supply. There is one laugh out loud moment when Luke Skywalker aka Mark Hamill meets an ignominious end. Throughout there are digs at the working-class and contemporary British life which felt at times as though Millar had been hijacked by Ukip. Thus we get all the working-class cliches - that everyone who lives on a council estate is a benefit scrounger, stuck in their own circle of Hell, pram surgically attached - and the Staffordshire bull terrier is the pet of choice.
If director Matthew Vaughn is thinking of this as the start of a franchise, he really needs to think again. Kingsmen feels curiously outdated and it is difficult not to be disappointed. What could have been a fun, entertaining premise pitting streetwise, contemporary Britain against the old Establishment, turns into a middle-aged fantasy, without much imagination or humour. Reading this book did not inspire me to see the movie adaptation. This is one collaboration Millar should not seek to renew.
Kingsman is published by Titan Books, £9.99