Published on September 22nd, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls0
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
More of the same (and perhaps reaching for a bigger universe it doesn’t earn), Kingsman 2 isn’t terrible, but, you know, it ain’t great either.
Coming in hot two years after director Matthew Vaughn’s surprise hit Kingsman: The Secret Service comes a sequel that doesn’t quite live up to the hype. The law of diminishing returns stacks the deck against any franchise continuation and the new film Kingsman: The Golden Circle does not escape many of the inherent trappings it’s preloaded with. Like the sharply dressed special agents leading the charge, the film does not lack charm; indeed, it’s almost immensely likeable at times when its manic energy and filmmaking flair synch together perfectly. But on the whole the film’s ambition doesn’t deliver in a completely satisfying way.
The first Kingsman had an anarchic spirit about it that kept things unpredictable. The Golden Circle constantly plays it safe, even when it thinks it’s not. The goal seems to not stand out but rather to branch out and create its own Kingsman cinematic universe. We don’t need a KCU! We don’t even need more sequels! The only way the filmmakers would ever be able to earn the right to continue the series is if each installment is just as good as the one before. In almost every quantifiable area, The Golden Circle pales in comparison to The Secret Service. One can be hopeful that ingenuity is sparked up and the inevitable third chapter is knocked out of the park.
All that isn’t to suggest that Kingsman: The Golden Circle isn’t without merits of its own. The action setpieces – especially the climactic shootout – are impressive and the cast effortlessly oozes charm. There are also a lot of laughs to be found, but the grasps at meaningful melodrama fall flat. You can play up a moment for a character’s death as if it’s a big deal, but it doesn’t mean anything if we haven’t connected with that character on any level in the preceding two hours (see also: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). Being told that we should care for a character is much different than naturally investing in them.
Our rapscallion of a reformed hero from the first film, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) is fitting into the Kingsman lifestyle quite nicely when we pick up with him. He’s settled down with the princess he saved at the end of The Secret Service and is responsibly managing his work/life balance. Shit hits then fan when a targeted attack completely wipes out the Kingsman crew, save for Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). The two have no choice but to enlist the assistance of their American counterparts, the Statesmen, to help find the villain at the heart of the plot.
Agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), and Champagne (Jeff Bridges) bring some bootleggin’ southern charm that livens up the proceedings but strangely aren’t utilized nearly enough. The U.S.A. spies are the big hook of the sequel but they take a back seat to less-than-inspired adventures with Eggsy. Especially in the case of Agent Tequila, it’s baffling why they weren’t given more to do.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle does match the original film in the villain department; a fantastically offbeat Samuel L. Jackson is replaced here with the eerily cheery Poppy played by Julianne Moore. She’s a psychopath in an apron, a Betty Crocker bent on genocide. Moore never over or under plays it and hits her notes right in the sweet spot. The scenes involving her character are honestly the best in the whole movie – you sort of keep wishing the story would switch back to her parts more often than it does.
Director Matthew Vaughn clearly has an affinity for this highly stylized world. The Hollywood disregard for physics and logic are one thing, but very little in The Golden Circle looks photorealistic. The CGI screams ‘fake’ to an alarming degree, troubling because there is a lot of CGI in this movie. Perhaps it was Vaughn’s intention to make the whole thing feel like a comic panel burst to life with color brighter than they should be and violence exaggerated to unrealistic heights. But to sell that you’ve got to make sure the content is as fun as the visuals, and there lies the giant disconnect within The Golden Circle.
Despite the unenthusiastic aftertaste you’re left with, there’s so much to enjoy in Kingsman: The Golden Circle even if it feels less sure of itself. The film should have more confidence than it does given the fan support and goodwill from The Secret Service. The first film was a surprising exception in an unremarkable marketplace back in early 2015. The thing about being caught by surprise is that you know what to look for on the next go-round – it’s impossible to replicate that same magic. But one can certainly think and look outside the box for something more unprecedented to at least create something different. The Kingsman crew should’ve spent more time on expanding and innovating instead of retreading and repeating.