I think I open up every post I write about the original Kingsman movie like this, but what an effing surprise it was. In a rare occurrence I didn’t catch the flick in theaters, and despite the positive reviews I still thought it looked pretty dumb. A Matthew Vaughn directed spy parody trying to cash in on the comic book adaptation craze? It just looked like nothing much at all, and I’m a huge James Bond fan. Then, about a year after its release or so, I was flipping through Netflix (or maybe Hulu) and just decided to watch it.
Guys, it’s so good.
The movie had just the right amount of snark, charm, and self-awareness to actually be one of the better “spy” films to come out in a while. It got a lot of its charm from playing itself straight while still being ridiculously over-the-top, and of course being crammed full of Vaughn’s signature action direction. It played with conventions, but not in a cheesy sight gag sort of way (think Austin Powers). It’s cast was fantastic and played their roles with a sly wink to the camera, and everything just worked.
An now we have a sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Can the perfect balance of parody and playfulness be recreated or, like many sequels, does more not necessarily mean better?
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Release Date: September 22, 2017
The Golden Circle picks up just a little while after the previous film ends. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has taken up saving the world along with his fellow Kingsman agents in place of his deceased mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), with continued support from their tech wizard, Merlin (Mark Strong). That all changes when Poppy (Julianne Moore), a sugary sweet drug lord who is obsessed with 50s Americana and Elton John, kills every Kingsman but Eggsy and Merlin. Forced to fall back on an emergency plan, the two discover that Kingsman has an American counterpart, the Statesmen. They subsequently head to America for help from that team of American spies, including Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and the action picks up.
One of the things that I liked about the original film was that it showed restraint in its absurdity. The Golden Circle pushes the ridiculousness even further, and while it doesn’t make for a bad movie at all, it makes for one that has less staying power and feeling. The plot is far more bloated and convoluted than the original, which played its straight-forwardness as a badge of honor. By ramping up the over-the-top aspects of the first film — which was already pretty over-the-top — the movie loses site of its characters a little too often, and plays its gags a little too hard. There’s an extended Elton John cameo that loses its welcome long before it is over, for example. This kind of gregariousness pervades almost every aspect of the movie making it less than its predecessor.
That’s not to say that The Golden Circle isn’t fun in and of itself. While the charm of the original may be somewhat less there’s still a lot to enjoy here, Vaughn’s fight sequence being a highlight once again. Much like the rest of the movie, things are taken to another level of insanity with this one, with Vaughn swinging his camera around slow-mo action like he’s channeling a swing ride at a county fair. With most directors (*ahem* Zack Snyder *ahem*) this trick has gotten old, but Vaughn somehow still manages to pull new things out of it. The final action sequence of the film is just a non-stop barrage of moments that are surprisingly unique and fun.
The film also plays hard into the tropes that it is mocking, to the point where it at points becomes more of a gag than a commentary. It’s not good when it does, turning what was a cohesive world of overblown spy antics into nothing more than jokes, but for the most part it avoids the trap. The already infamous sex scene you may have heard about is probably the most obvious representation of this. It’s either a brilliant piece of commentary on action movies willingness to gloss over sex or a crude joke that misses its mark. I’d like to think it’s the former, and as such enjoyed it, but the balance of the film’s parody teeters so close to the edge of straight mockery that I can’t be sure.
Thankfully the performances of the returning cast reign everything in. Egerton, Firth, and Strong build upon the actual characters they made in the original film and maintain the quirky charm they displayed in the first film. Moore’s Poppy is delightfully sadistic even if she sadly doesn’t get enough time to show it off. The American agents are bit more of a mixed bag, with Tatum being nothing more than a cameo for trailers and Halle Berry, who plays Merlin’s American counterpart, missing half her character. Luckily, Pascal’s Whiskey, who has the largest role of the Statesmen, is right on point with his British counterparts.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not the smart, quirky, and charming film that surprised me so much that the original was. But that doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it a bit more standard. By turning everything up to 11 the film loses its base and turns more into the kind of movie I thought the original was: a straight parody. It’s just a bit too messy and a bit too happy to make jokes at the expense of character. This isn’t to say you won’t have fun, because it is fun. It’s got great action, solid characters, and just enough smarts to be good, but if this is the path the franchise is headed down I can’t say that is a good thing.