Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn; based on characters created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum
A review by Cameron Kieffer
***Mild Spoilers for both Kingsman films. You’ve been warned!***
The Kingsman franchise is an interesting beast. It takes the ridiculousness of older James Bond movies, mixes in the grittiness of the more recent Bond films and throws in a dash of superhero-flavor that creates a familiar, yet unique concoction. In other words, it’s crazy-town banana-pants. Ultimately, however, when it comes to Kingsman: The Golden Circle, that last ingredient proves to be more of a hindrance than a benefit.
The original film introduced us to the world of the Kingsmen, a super-secret, super-British spy organization. Their members are posh, mild-mannered, incredibly well-groomed and brutal as fuck. When we first meet reluctant recruit Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), he’s brash, disrespectful, and doesn’t know a salad fork from shinola. But he’s got a good heart and a load of potential. He manages to un-tap with the help of Harry Hart, aka “Galahad” (Colin Firth). In an unexpected twist, Harry is killed before the climax of the film. Eggsy is forced to step up and save the world with the help of Merlin (Mark Strong). By the end of the film, Eggsy is an official Kingsman and has taken the place (and codename) of his mentor.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle takes place roughly a year later. Eggsy is still fighting the good fight as part of Her Majesty’s secret service. His skills have improved significantly, which we see during the film’s opening sequence: a high-octane car chase that is both fast and furious, feeling like if Edgar Wright directed a Bond flick (which sounds like a fantastic idea by the way. Write that down, MGM). Things slow down a bit as we establish Eggsy’s personal life: he’s in a romantic relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), whom Eggsy rescued in the first film. You may remember her as the girl offering him an… incentive for saving the world. He also enjoys a close but platonic friendship with fellow agent Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and his puppy JB, while still mourning the loss of Harry.
After a devastating, yet accidental attack leaves the Kingsman’s headquarters destroyed and nearly all their members dead (including Roxy). Eggsy and Merlin travel to the United States to initiate the Doomsday Protocol. Here they discover the Statesman, a fellow spy organization disguised as a distillery in Kentucky. Their members include the aptly-named Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), and leader Champagne (Jeff Bridges). The two groups are forced to team up when revealed that the perky, yet ruthless drug lord Poppy (Julianne Moore) is holding the world hostage with her brand of chemically-modified drugs. If that wasn’t enough, Eggsy and Merlin are shocked to find the Statesman have a houseguest in the form of a still very-much-alive Harry Hart.
I won’t spoil the catalyst for Harry’s return (is he a clone? Evil twin? LMD?) but it’s one of several retcons that takes full advantage of Kingsman’s comic book roots. In fact, this film, and its predecessor are both steeped in more comic book sensibilities than the source material that inspired it. And, sadly, this sequel tends to suffer for it. While the first film’s set pieces were stylistic and over-the-top, the world and its characters were still relatively grounded. At least as grounded as a beautiful assassin with knives for feet can be. But for The Golden Circle, the bat-shit craziness is cranked up to eleven. Poppy’s henchman sports a cybernetic arm that makes Cable look like Chubs from Happy Gilmore. She also has a pair of robotic pit-bulls named Bennie and Jet, that look like the offspring of K-9 and a Cyberman.
Even Eggsy’s skills rival that of most superheroes nowadays. Between the too-good-for-him girlfriend, his secret identity, above average strength and agility, he’s basically Spider-Man UK. Which sounds great on paper, but in execution, makes the majority of the fight scenes kind of dull. The stakes aren’t as high because the agents are basically superheroes, with weapons that are fun but defy all logic (Whiskey’s lighting-lasso being a highlight). The filmmakers didn’t just embrace the story’s comic book roots, they exploited them and create a world where death has a revolving door for some and nothing has to make sense as long as it looks cool.
That’s not to say it’s bad. It suffers from the bigger, badder, crazier motif that afflicts so many sequels. A lot of the humor is over-the-top and unnecessary, including a few very awkward moments featuring a foul-mouthed Elton John. None of the mostly-CGI fights can hold a candle to the original film’s scene of Harry single-handedly dispatching a group of thugs. And of course, nothing in this film can compare to that infamous church scene.
One area where the film does excel is in its performances. As Eggsy, Egerton proves to be great leading-man material and able to hold his on alongside heavyweights like Firth and Bridges. He plays Eggsy with charisma and earnestness that keeps the character likable even when his actions don’t. Likewise, Julianne Moore plays Poppy as sweet and wholesome with the ability to go unflinchingly dark. She’s the kind of villain you hate to love but love to hate.
Speaking of, whether you love him or hate him, Channing Tatum is pretty great as Tequila. With his flask-belt buckle and southern drawl, he’s a great addition to the cast. It’s a shame he’s written out fairly early (don’t panic, Chan-fans, I can almost guarantee you he’ll be back for Kingsman 3). I had never heard of Pedro Pascal before but really enjoyed his performance as Whiskey. Though, to be honest, I thought he was Jeremey Renner with a prosthetic nose the whole time. And while their roles weren’t exactly challenging, Berry and Bridges bring enough personality and heart to their respective characters to warrant their inclusion in future sequels.
Not surprising, the film’s standout performances are Firth and Strong as Harry and Merlin, respectively. Both characters have story arcs that are equally funny, tragic and emotional. When we first see Harry again, he doesn’t know who he is and is a bit, well… mental. It’s funny, yet heartbreaking when you see what he has to go through to regain who he is (or was). Strong is equally strong (sorry not sorry) in his role as Eggsy’s “guy in the chair” turned full-fledged agent and is responsible for one of the film’s more emotional and climactic scenes.
See it. It’s nowhere near the quality of the first film, and I do take issue with some of the narrative choices, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun follow-up with some great new characters, awesome weapons and the best use of a Prince song since Purple Rain. It also sets up an intriguing new direction for the franchise, assuming it continues. Plus, if it does well enough, maybe we can get a Halle Berry-led Statesman spin-off? I’d pay to see that. Twice.