Review: Vaughn's 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' is James Bond on Crank
by Adam Frazier
September 21, 2017
Based on the acclaimed comic book by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, 2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service was a crass, tongue-in-cheek tribute to the spy films of the '60s and '70s. Co-written and directed by English filmmaker Matthew Vaughn (of Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), the stylish and subversive send-up became the filmmaker's most commercially successful film to date. Enter the highly anticipated sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a movie so overblown and preposterous that it feels less like On Her Majesty's Secret Service and more like the deranged lovechild of Austin Powers and Crank.
This sequel picks up a year after unrefined street kid Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) joined the Kingsman, England's super-secret spy agency, and saved the world from Richmond Valentine's neurological wave broadcast. Since then, Eggsy has taken his late mentor Harry Hart's code name, Galahad, and is living with Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström). Things are going great for the suave super-spy until "The Golden Circle", a secret New World Order organization led by pharmaceutical entrepreneur and criminal mastermind Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), destroys the Kingsman headquarters and wipes out every agent in Britain. Well, almost every agent.
Surviving the attack are Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong), Kingsman's resident tech wizard. Following their doomsday protocol, the agents go to Kentucky to rendezvous with Statesman, an American counterpart of Kingsman disguised as a Bourbon whiskey distillery. There they meet agents Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), Tequila (Channing Tatum), and the head of Statesman, Champagne (Jeff Bridges). At Statesman HQ, Eggsy and Merlin make a shocking discovery: a bullet to the head can't stop Kingsman agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Presumed dead after being shot by Valentine in Kentucky a year earlier, Harry was saved by the Statesman. Sporting an eye patch and suffering from amnesia, Harry doesn't remember his life as a spy, and instead dedicates his time to lepidopterology, the study of butterflies.
Meanwhile, The Golden Circle releases a deadly toxin that will decimate the world's population. Taking over some ancient ruins in Southeast Asia, Poppy has created a lair-cum-theme park inspired by '50s Americana. A cross between Las Vegas and Disneyland, Poppyland has all kinds of attractions, including a beauty salon, bowling alley, concert hall, and an American Graffiti-style diner that doubles as queenpin's office. Moore is without question one of the film's bright spots, and a scene in which she has a subordinate thrown into a meat grinder, only to make another henchman eat a burger made from his partner is both horrific and hilarious. Poppy is a businesswoman first, lunatic second — there's a method to her madness. She will distribute an antidote, but only if the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) ends the War on Drugs and legalizes all recreational drugs. As the world hangs in the balance, it's up to Eggsy and Merlin to remind Harry of his days as Galahad so they can stop Poppy before the whole world overdoses.
Vaughn, who started out as a producer of movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, has racked up an impressive filmography since his directorial debut in 2004. Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, First Class – there isn't a bad movie in the bunch. And there's an argument to be made that Kingsman: The Secret Service is his best work yet, which is why it pains me to say that The Golden Circle is by far his worst. Attempting to one-up its already over-the-top predecessor, the sequel is an exercise in overkill – a send-up of a send-up. Everything that made the first movie fun is exaggerated to the point of tedium. Now every sequence is as unbelievably excessive as the symphony of head explosions from the first film's finale, doubling down on the nonsense and mayhem while cramming every other facet of storytelling through Poppy's meat grinder.
Moore, Strong, Firth, and Egerton deliver great performances, and Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman write their characters as believable, even if the half-cocked plot they're wrapped up in isn't. Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, reprises the role of Rooster Cogburn for the fifth time as "Champ" while Halle Berry does a pretty standard job of being Halle Berry. Pedro Pascal has charisma, no doubt about it, but his character is the least interesting part of the proceedings. And then there's Channing Tatum, Magic Mike himself, who's barely in the movie. If there's one big twist or revelation about The Golden Circle that I didn't see coming, it's advertising Tatum as a supporting player with plenty of screen time when his role is closer to a glorified cameo. The idea, I suppose, is he'll get a starring role in the third Kingsman movie, should one materialize.
There's one memorable sequence in The Golden Circle, an outrageous set piece in which Harry and Eggsy storm Poppyland, set to Elton John's song "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." Director of photography George Richmond is no stranger to guns-a-blazing action, having worked on Wanted, Quantum of Solace, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, and Kingsman. His work here is some of his best, capturing the absurdity of the showdown in a way that is both exhilarating and humorous. Even for a movie that beats you over the head with inflated insanity for 141 minutes straight, this climactic scene stands out – right up there with the "Free Bird" sequence from the first film.
Unfortunately, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not as deceptively clever or wildly imaginative as its predecessor. It's a slick piece of pop art, for sure, but it's also another case of diminishing returns where world-building has taken precedence over telling an interesting story in that world. I hope, should Vaughn and Goldman decide to make Kingsman a trilogy, they find the right balance of engaging storytelling and fun-if-implausible thrills, so we can invest in the characters and the world they're risking life and limb to save.
Adam's Rating: 2.5 out of 5
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