Kingsman: The Golden Circle, 2017.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Starring Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Edward Holcroft, Hanna Alstrom, Michael Gambon, Sophie Cookson, Poppy Delevingne, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson, and Jeff Bridges.
When their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage, the Kingsman’s journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US. These two elite secret organizations must band together to defeat a common enemy.
Familiarity is surprisingly the running theme of Kingsman: The Golden Circle (director Matthew Vaughn returning to the director’s chair and penning the script alongside frequent collaborator Jane Goldman, together hoping lightning strikes the same spot twice), as what’s new feels old, and unfortunately not like a fine wine that tastes more delicious with age. Starting with the first of many questionable creative decisions, the Kingsmen effectively get written out of the sequel (save for one major returning supporting player I will not spoil) and any future installments, all thanks to a bionic armed, rejected applicant of the spy organization finding a means to blow all of their property to kingdom come.
Enter the Statesmen; they’re like the Kingsmen except instead of being granted titles paying homage to King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, the institution hands out monikers named after different brands of alcohol to tie in with their front as a liquor distillery. Now, the members of the group are all fairly fun characters to be around and portrayed by a wide range of well-known actors (Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Jeff Bridges for example, although it is Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal with the most screen time and bloodshed on his lightsaber lasso wrangling hands), but it’s deflating and equally parts frustrating seeing the filmmakers completely disregard and throw away an established set of characters. Surely, a better script would find a reasonable compromise or resolution that allows the full roster of the Kingsmen and Statesmen to co-exist as similar yet different factions focused on thwarting the plots of cheesy Roger Moore-era James Bond evil masterminds.
On the flipside, it is annoying that the writing duo is unable to commit to killing off Harry/Sir Galahad (Colin Firth, who tore away from years of typecasting and kicked all sorts of ass in the first feature), especially considering that the first half of the post-summer blockbuster spends an unnecessary amount of time on his amnesia. Thankfully, the explanation for his continued existence is explained rather swiftly, but its lasting effects are far more concerning, as not only does it feel like a lame deus ex machina, but it’s now made far too easy for almost anyone in this franchise to be revived. Characters have to either be decapitated or obliterated to pieces (something the sequel gleefully loves to indulge in). It is also absolutely preposterous how quickly Harry is saved, even for this franchise. I’m not looking for believability in Kingsman, but there are some things that are impossible to withhold suspension of disbelief over.
From what’s been said so far it may sound like Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a disaster of a follow-up to arguably one of the best action films of the decade so far, but it’s more a matter of a rocky first hour that is disoriented in combining the forces of the spy organizations. There are even numerous callbacks to certain scenes (for those that thought that one sexually explicit line in the first was too controversial, well, you probably don’t want to know what is said at all before a brief act of lovemaking in this one) and a few moments taken from The Secret Service that are almost the same here. Take the extended bar fight sequence for example; that’s here too, with some of the same exact dialogue, but restructured to allow the film to show off The Statesmen gadgetry. Honestly, it’s just plain lazy.
However, there are early signs of the crazed and creative out-of-control madness that inhabited the first film, namely with the global drug dealer villain Poppy played by veteran actress Julianne Moore. Frustrated with the fact that she runs the world’s most successful and profitable cartel but no fame to call her own, she puts forth in motion a plan that will turn the tables on both her users and the US government. Julianne Moore is unhinged and deranged in the role, never coming across as a rational human being. Then again, neither does the US government; there is some political commentary present on the recent US Presidential election, although even though we are presented with a figure that behaves like Trump, he sounds more like George Dubya. Oh, Poppy also has Elton John captured and confined to an auditorium playing music for her followers, but more on him (a lot more) in a minute. All of this illegal activity is run from the ruins of an undisclosed location, redesigned and remodeled to look like the 1950s; there are diners and bowling alleys spread around the town designed to look like something out of Grease. It’s actually a visually brilliant stroke of originality, adding another layer of lunacy to the ridiculous villains in this franchise.
Eventually, Kingsman: The Golden Circle find its footing with the once again exceptional action direction from Matthew Vaughn. Unfortunately, there is no sequence here that tops the mind-blowing church sequence in the first film, but let’s be realistic, that’s an incredibly high bar to leapfrog. Fortunately, this style remains the same, utilizing a number of long takes and classic rock songs, while speeding up and slowing down various motions of violence. The carnage continues to look like a graphic novel itself (remember, the series is based on one), and even when it seems to be at 3X speed with the camera swirling and pivoting around characters shooting bullets or dodging incoming danger, things never get so far out of control that audiences can’t focus on what’s happening or worse, get motion sickness. Disappointingly, this is somewhat offset by an overdose of noticeably bad CGI, used for some truly pointless reasons.
Matthew Vaughn’s other secret weapon is the aforementioned Elton John, who, taken against his will, gets to mug for the camera and steal every scene he is in, usually by blurting out obscenities at Julianne Moore’s Poppy. Dressed up in flamboyant costumes reminiscent to some of his real live performances, Elton John is also recognized by Poppy’s ferocious robotic canines as friendly. When shit hits the fan at her base, Elton John becomes under the impression that there is a rescue mission underway; what follows is beyond hilarious and entertaining. There are times when watching this movie that it feels like someone put 10X the amount of effort into making sure Elton John had something incredibly amusing to do rather than write a worthy successor of a plot or come up with action sequences that can at least match the insanity of the original. I didn’t feel any love tonight, but I sure felt a lot of pain being dished out by one Sir Elton John.
It’s clear that both Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn understand why Kingsman: The Secret Service was a success, as traces of it are scattered all throughout The Golden Circle. There is still a healthy balance of over-the-top villainy, stylistic action, and hilarity, but much of the welcome emotional punch the first one had is nonexistent here. Even Eggsy’s relatively new relationship feels underdeveloped, meaning that when trouble arrives in paradise (no thanks to the script pairing him with the sexual punchline Swedish princess from the first installment), it comes with nowhere near the sense of urgency as the world-leveling events did in the first movie. Still, we want to spend time with these elite organizations and the crazy shenanigans they find themselves caught up in, so here’s hoping that now with a set-in-stone unified team put together, the next entry can get right to business and fire on all cylinders.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com