Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Even a movie that legitimately invigorated an entire genre on it's own can spawn a franchise. Sometimes it's a good thing. Sometimes it's a bad thing.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle jumps a year past the events of the first film. Eggsy has been made an official Kingsman, taking the place of Harry as the new Galahad, and is living with Tilde, the Princess of Sweden from the previous movie. On his way home he's attacked by Charlie, the dropout trainee who was bested by Eggsy before, and a car chase follows. Afterwards, Charlie is able to hack the Kingsman database via Eggsy's car, resulting in all of the known addresses of Kingsman agents being blown up by rockets. The culprit, Poppy Adams, needs Kingsman out of the way if her plan to hold the world hostage is to succeed.
This sequel is just as fun as its predecessor, which is a hard feat in itself, just in a different sort of style. Where Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) had a certain surprise to it's quality, as it simultaneously parodied and reenergized the action/spy genre, The Golden Circle attempts to grow, in a way, with a more mature plot, in it's outlandish, far-fetched style, that harkens back to the days of classic, Sean Connery James Bond.
That writing, though, falls flat. In fact, in just about every aspect The Golden Circle either takes things too far or doesn't go far enough. The villain's plan is too ridiculous; the subterfuge is too expected; the henchman is too boring; the allies don't have enough of a purpose; the technology is too nonsensical...
The story of Poppy Adams tries to be logical and smart but never quite hits the mark. Poppy is a supposed sociopath/megalomaniac who graduated from Harvard, runs an extremely successful drug cartel (while apparently never getting on any intelligence agency's radar even though she brands all of her employees with molten gold circles), and is extremely lonely as a result of headquartering her cartel on an unmapped and uninhabited jungle island. She just wants to be taken seriously as a business woman.
But Poppy never feels like a villain. Even while she forces a potential new-hire to kill his own friend by pushing him into a meat grinder, then using the resulting meat to cook a burger and make him eat it, it all feels like an act. It's as if Poppy isn't actually psychotic, just trying to appear intimidating. And part of the blame lies with Julianne Moore, who's so good at appearing happy and normal, and having perfected her infectious smile, that she never takes it the extra mile to appear just slightly wrong or not quite normal; for all intents and purposes Poppy just appears to be a middle-aged executive who isn't quite content with her job. That feeling of the character not meeting the actions, of the lack of depth or appropriate writing, is one that plagues The Golden Circle.
The entire identity of the Kingsman agents is embodied by being a Kingsman agent. The background fits to a T, and the cover of being tailors and always being a gentleman conveys perfectly everything that there is to know about them. But all of that perfect identity is tossed aside with the introduction of the Statesman whose cover is that of a bourbon distillery. Their organization's identity has little identifiable use beyond the cutesy ability to henceforth title their agents after popular alcohols. They have agents Whiskey, Tequila, and more, all led by the Arthur-equivalent Champagne who prefers to be called Champ. Don't get me wrong, I understand the parallels. The Kingsmen are supposed to embody the popular identity of English characters in Hollywood movies as being suave, well-groomed, and of a certain class while the Statesmen are the embodiment of the view of American characters as being utterly patriotic and slightly rogueish. But why couldn't the Statesman agents be named for something else, such as America's founding fathers? Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, etc. And the cover could be a publisher, newspaper, construction company, or arms manufacturer. Those would all be more American than a half-assed distillery whose headquarters are shaped like a liquor bottle.
The absolute best and most redeeming facet of the movie is Eggsy's relationship to his mentor, Harry. Even though all the marketing absolutely ruined Harry's return, it's still awesome to see how much they care about each other. I guess you could call it heartwarming. In fact, their sure to become a crime-fighting duo and I hope that's what happens. Seeing the pair, along with Merlin, amid all the potential subterfuge and danger is a thrill, especially as we see Harry recovering from his traumatic gunshot to the head.
Now, despite the story, the movie is actually fun. The comedy hits the mark so well that a lot of jokes won't even be noticed until the second watch. They're woven into the identity of the movie. Beyond that, the action is fun and the main characters are unendingly intriguing. Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong carry The Golden Circle on their backs so much that the next sequel, if there is one, must surely show them all as being wheelchair-ridden. The three and their insane chemistry are the huge force behind the movie that makes it at all watchable and likable.
Even though the overly long story imposes itself at every turn with attempts at being subtle and surprising the action is actually gripping. Whiskey's whip is electrifying in its slow-motion; Eggsy is surprisingly efficient and lethal for a somewhat green agent; Harry is surprisingly adroit as an out-of-touch and still-recovering lepidopterist. Even Charlie, the scorned Kingsman-tryout-turned-henchman feels surprisingly dangerous with his robotic arm.
And it's all buttoned up by a soundtrack that's exciting. And that's all I can really say about that. The soundtrack can feel just as gimmicky as the rest of the movie at times but at least they're good songs.
Elton John plays himself as a captive entertainer who surprises us with his martial arts abilities and helps Eggsy and Harry in their mission; a wristwatch is able to hack through biometric security even though the entire climax of the first movie hinged on the fact that Merlin can't hack biometric security; the same wristwatch is claimed to be able to "hack anything with a microchip" but later can't hack robot dogs that attack Harry or the computer used by Poppy even though it can manage to hack Charlie's mechanical arm; Whiskey has a 6-inch handle thingy that houses an entire, electrically modified whip/lasso combo that shoots out of the handle at the touch of a button; the US government's best idea to intern hundreds of thousands of virus-affected civilians is to stack them in medium-sized jail cells in stadiums because it's apparently time and supply efficient; the best way to place a tracker onto a girl is via a mechanic that requires the agent to finger her vagina at a music festival even though the previous movie had a microscopic microphone in a hat (Why not pose as a dude giving henna tattoos with the tracker comprised of nanobots in the ink? You already used nanobots to heal a gunshot to the head which already creates its own problems... Why make your make character sexually assault a girl/cheat on his committed relationship/both when your audience was already divided about the final joke of the first movie being one about anal sex?). The whole movie feels like an excuse to use one gimmick or another, a long chain of strung along gimmicks in an entertaining action flick. Well, when said like that it doesn't sound so unusual.
And all of that doesn't even touch the whole political subplot which 20th Century Fox, the distributors, should be fucking ashamed of themselves for shoehorning into a spy movie.
One of the things that a growing number of people dislike about action movies is that the stakes are always the world. Marvel's done it in 7 of the 16 movies they've released in their current cinematic universe; DC's done it in all 4 of the movies released in their current cinematic universe; audiences no longer want movies where the whole world is at stake. The reason so many other movies succeed is because their stories are on a smaller scale with more personal motives. Even Skyfall was, in part, so outrageously good because it was carried by a more personal plot and not a story of James Bond saving the world from financial ruin.
TL;DR: Let's be real. I can't say that The Golden Circle isn't fun. It's a lot of fun. It's actually a fucking riot. It's funny. The action is great. The main characters make me care about them and what happens to them. Unfortunately, the good aspects are overshadowed by a hill of lots of small problems that start to add up when you stop and take a minute to think about the movie. I'll definitely watch this movie again, I love it for all it's problems, but I can't honestly say that it's a good movie.
- Acting – 16 / 20
- Story – 5 / 20
- Cinematography – 16 / 20
- Soundtrack – 7 / 10
- Entertainment Factor – 7 / 10
- Action/Spy – 5 / 10
- Other – 5 / 10