'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'
‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was a pleasant surprise and a kick in the pants for comic book movies when it hit screens a few short years ago. Never has it been clearer just how delicate a line it nimbly walked then when watching this lackluster sequel.
Working from a comic by Mark Millar, the first movie allowed director Matthew Vaughn to play pretend James Bond with a distinctly British and self-aware take on the superspy genre. It somehow managed to playfully tease the excesses of Bond and prove that there was room for Roger Moore-style romps in the deathly serious Daniel Craig era.
Having grown Eggsy (Taron Egerton) from brat to refined Kingsman in the first film, there’s not much more for Vaughn and his co-screenwriter Jane Goldman to do with his character. Instead, they fill the movie with a bunch of diversions that keep him the same and honest. First and foremost, the whole Kingsman organization is decimated by Julianne Moore’s delightfully cracked villain, Poppy. She’s a drug lord who lives on a kitschy 1950s retro island and has poisoned the world’s supply of narcotics to ensure that all recreational drug users will die unless America agrees to legalize drugs once and for all. She’ll profit from that, but she also wants to prove a point. Unfortunately, the hard-line, anti-drug American President views it as an opportunity to win the drug war by killing all of the nation’s druggie deplorables. But back to Eggsy… he’s got to stop that plot by teaming up with the American equivalent of the Kingsmen, known as The Statesmen. They’re a gang of dapper cowboys led by Jeff Bridges (in his usual late career grumble and drawl) and Channing Tatum. Obviously, there will be some culture clashing. Oh, and it turns out that Eggsy’s mentor Harry (Colin Firth) is also alive, now with an eyepatch and without his memory.
Boy, that sure sounds like a lot of characters and storylines competing for attention in an action movie, doesn’t it? There’s just way too much going on in the script for even a 2-hour 20-minute movie to contain. The story is convoluted by Bond standards (which aren’t exactly models of streamlined narrative simplicity). No one quite gets enough screen time to fully develop a character and no story is ironed out in enough detail to sustain a truly satisfying conclusion. It feels like Vaughn and Goldman threw every idea that they had for a possible sequel at the screenplay hoping that something might stick. Overall, it’s a bit sloppy. Although most scenes play well enough in isolation, the issue here is a rare one to plague an overstuffed studio sequel – the filmmakers had too many good ideas as opposed to not enough. That’s a blessing and a curse.
On the good side of things are the action scenes, which are relentlessly paced and stylized. Vaughn designs almost all of them in the herky-jerky, faux single-take style of the church massacre in the last ‘Kingsman’. It’s an impressive technique that never ceases to amaze, even if it starts to feel like a bit of a crutch by the end. Julianne Moore is also magnificent is the villain, smiling and charming her way through her surprisingly logical and reasoned evil plot. She’s such a joy to behold that you miss her when she’s off screen. The Statesmen are all amusing inversions of Kingsman tropes, but often end up feeling like wasted extended cameos in a movie with too much going on. Egerton, Firth, and Mark Strong’s playful dynamic remains gloriously goofy, even if the amnesia storyline stretches on too long. Are you sensing a pattern yet? It’s hard to pinpoint any specific moment or element that fails, but nothing quite clicks together either.
Maybe, despite all the Bond influences, ‘Kingsman’ just wasn’t meant to be a franchise. The first flick was ultimately just a very well told joke riffing on decades of Bond tropes and lore. Vaughn might stage and shoot that joke just as brilliantly the second time, but not even the best joke benefits from repetition. Perhaps it doesn’t feel fresh anymore, or maybe the self-aware pisstake of lad culture fantasies isn’t quite as funny now. (One particular seduction scene just feels like bad taste without any of the irony that saved the first picture.)
It’s impossible to dismiss ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ outright. The movie has plenty of jokes that land and Vaughn has a knack for delivering stunning yet silly action scenes that some of the less imaginative superhero blockbusters could learn lessons from. It’s still very much worth seeing this sequel if you enjoyed the original ‘Kingsman’. Expectations should just be tempered because this entertainment machine doesn’t run quite as smoothly. That said, there’s an A+ use of Elton John in this flick that’s worth the price of admission alone. Act accordingly.