KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
I’m ashamed to admit that I broke one of my rules for film criticism with my viewing of director Matthew Vaughn’s latest popcorn flick, ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’. Since starting nerdonfilm.com I’ve made it a point to not see sequels to films that I haven’t seen. I’d always meant to catch up with the first entry in the series, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’, but for whatever reason the opportunity continued to elude me. Even still, the film looked like something that I’d like, so when I realized 'Golden Circle’ would be releasing this week, I decided I’d go ahead and jump in. If I liked it well enough, I’d go back and check out the original. I’m happy to say that’s exactly what happened, and I’m now a fan of all things ‘Kingsman’, well… most things ‘Kingsman’.
‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ stars Taron Egerton as Eggsy Unwin AKA the Kingsman Galahad; a British super spy working for a private secret service dedicated to maintaining world peace. The film opens with an attempt on his life from a washed out former recruit of the Kingsman program. Following a manic fight sequence/ car chase set to the tune of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ (excellent song choice), Eggsy manages to survive the encounter, but not before allowing the Kingsman’s technological mainframe to be hacked. It turns out the villain behind the hacking is a cheerfully, sweetly evil woman named Poppy portrayed by the always excellent Julianne Moore. Poppy uses her access to the Kingsman’s mainframe to mount an attack on the organization that seemingly leaves only Eggsy and his computer specialist mentor, Merlin (a very strong Mark Strong), alive.
With no one else to turn to, Eggsy and Merlin seek out the help of the American equivalent of the Kingsman: the Statesman. While the Kingsman model themselves after the archetypal British gentlemen, the Statesman adhere to the model of the southern gentleman; cowboy hats, spurs, bullwhips and all. That organization is headed up by Jeff Bridges (he’s given a character name, but c’mon: he’s just playing Jeff Bridges) and his senior agent, Whiskey (the new to me Pedro Pascal). Utilizing the help of the Statesman, Eggsy and Merlin mount a campaign against Poppy to avenge their fallen comrades and stop her misguided plot to force the world’s governments to legalize all drug use.
If you’re familiar with ‘The Secret Service’ you know what type of film you’re in for with ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’. The movie is a relentlessly frenetic and gory parody of classic Bond films that revels in crude humor and broad, obvious political satire. The mean spirited humor at play here does walk a fine line, but it falls on the right side of it for the most part due to Matthew Vaughn’s unique sensibilities.
Vaughn, who has quickly established himself as an auteur (whether or not he’s a good one I’ll leave up to you), is a director that either works for me or doesn’t. I’ve loathed many of his other films, ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘Kick Ass’ in particular, but his freshman effort ‘Layer Cake’ and now ‘The Kingsman’ series do the trick for me quite well. No one shoots action quite like him. His camera during the many fight scenes that pepper the film seems to be suspended by rubber bands at all times. It swoops and jerks, usually around a central figure, to ensure it captures every inch of the excellent fight choreography on display in the film. The digital trickery used to make these scenes work purposefully draws attention to itself, creating a style that is truly unique to him.
One of Vaughn’s other great strengths is his eye for casting, and he’s put together an excellent one here. Taron Egerton is quickly proving himself to be a strong leading man as well as an accomplished character actor; if you haven’t seen his unglamorous turn in ‘Eddie the Eagle’ I highly suggest you seek it out. He pulls off both aspects of Eggsy well: the street smart thug and the posh English gentlemen. Julianne Moore chews the scenery as the evil, yet sticky sweet Poppy, and Pedro Pascal almost immediately establishes himself as a charming screen presence. This core group is padded out with an excellent, uncharacteristic turn from Colin Firth, a likable Channing Tatum, and *clears throat in gesture of disappointment* Halle Berry; usually Berry’s presence is an unwelcome one (that Oscar for ‘Monster’s Ball’ was a fluke), but she’s inoffensive enough here.
Unfortunately a couple of Vaughn’s weaknesses are also on full display within ‘The Golden Circle’. The same tendency towards ADHD that makes his action sequences so fun to watch, bleeds into the script which he co-plotted with his longtime screenwriting partner Jane Goldman. As a result too many extraneous plot lines are introduced too late in the film, and many characters get lost in the shuffle; most notably Tatum’s Tequila.
As I touched on before, much of Vaughn’s humor is hit or miss. While he hits for the most part here, there’s an extended cameo from Sir Elton John that he comes back to several times that is A) undignified B) not funny, and C) just plain stupid; even with the cartoon reality at play within the film. I literally loathed it, and it almost entirely ruins the climax of the movie. I have no idea what would cause Vaughn to hang so much of the film’s third act on a useless joke, but it very nearly undoes everything he did right with the first two thirds of the film. Luckily, the final action sequence is fueled by a weird, honky tonk version of one hit wonder Cameo’s classic song ‘Word Up’. It goes a long way to ease the pain of the egregious misstep of the John cameo.
Like the early Bond films it parodies, ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ builds a fun, campy world that leaves plenty of room for sequels. Despite being inferior to it’s predecessor, the film is still fun and manic enough that I look forward to seeing them. Hopefully in the future they’ll be sure to steer clear from any lame cameos, though; celebrity appearances, not the funk band.
RATING: 3.75 OUT OF 5 (BUMP THE SCORE UP A QUARTER POINT IF YOU DON’T MIND THE ELTON JOHN STUFF)
BONUS RATING: ’KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE: 4.25 OUT OF 5
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