I had high hopes for this instalment, especially as the first film (‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’) was so brilliant. Now don’t get me wrong, TSS was by no means perfect, but it refreshed the spy genre in a unique way, one that many other films have failed to do over the years, and had me laughing aloud in the cinema. ‘The Golden Circle’ has a lot of the same ingredients that made the first one great – the fact that both Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman returned for a sequel of a film they had created together was wonderful to see, especially after how middle of the road Kick-Ass 2 was without their involvement – yet it is missing some of the magic that made the first one so entertaining.
(Now I don’t usually give synopsises for films on this thing as they take too much time and I’m a bit lazy. But in this instance I will as there is a bit too unpack and it helps me categorise my thoughts.)
The Golden Circle sees the Kingsman seek help from their American equivalent (The Statesman) after almost their entire organisation gets wiped out by 50’s nostalgia obsessed, mega drug lord Poppy (Julianne Moore) for some reason… I can’t actually remember the reason why, but I will get to that later.
The fact that most of the Kingsman get killed within the first ten or so minutes allows the film to essentially clean up everyone non-essential to the plot so that they can fill the gap with The Statesman. This is such a shame as some key players from the first film get reduced to little more than a cameo role despite all the hard work they put into the first instalment. Talking of great actors being underused, The Statesman bring with them a whole host of famous faces – Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Pedro Pascal – all of which necessitate a certain amount of screen time to justify their existence in the film, which turns out not to be a lot.
It is actually only Pedro Pascal – a wonderful actor who has appeared in Game of Thrones and has a LEADING role in Netflix’s Narco’s – that has any worthwhile amount of screen time out of the Statesman in the film, which makes the exclusion of his name from all promotional material highly questionable. Based on the trailer the roles of Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry (Boss and Tech geek respectively) were bound to be in the category of ‘supporting role’, but it was the lack of screen time Channing Tatum received that really made me question the point of his character outside of spin off / sequel opportunities. He is in it for such a small amount of time that the hilarious cameo by a worldwide star (who I will not spoil as it is one of the best parts of the film) is actually longer and more pivotal to the plot than Tatum is.
So all that aside, the Kingsman and Statesman join forces to take down Julianne Moore’s ‘Poppy’, a villain that – in true Kingsman tradition – has some very over the top character traits and a hard to reach secret lair. Other that these things though she is a boring, poorly executed character that is so bland that I wonder why Julianne Moore was chosen for this role. In the hands of a different actress I think Poppy could have been terrifying – she is the largest drug dealer in the history of the world who happily feeds people into meat grinders and tortures them with melted gold tattoos in the name of loyalty – yet Moore plays her with so much fake emotion that it feels like she only agreed to star for the pay check at the end. The motivation for the character was also lacking. As mentioned earlier I can’t really remember the reason behind Poppy wanting to extinguish the Kingsman, I’m pretty sure it was to stop them from messing with her plans, yet she got to her position as the biggest drug lord in history without their knowledge – they literally have no idea who she is until she tells them – so what is the reason to attack them other than as a plot device for a film?
Now a villain can only ever be as good as their sidekick. Sofia Boutella’s blade legged acrobat from the first film was (and still is) one of my favourite parts of the Secret Service. Where Samuel L Jackson’s character fails, she was there to pick up the pieces… or chop them to pieces. REFERENCES!!!
Now Poppy’s sidekick is a familiar face (again not revealed so as not to spoil) who thankfully received a flashback as I had forgotten who the actor was. The choice for this character as a sidekick works well and fits into the mythos of the film, despite the slight retcon of the Secret Services finale. Yet, much like Moore, he is quite boring. Aside from his angst and mechanical prosthetic (I’m all for villain’s having equal opportunities but we have already seen a henchman with a disability in the canon of this film, couldn’t you think of something else? or have them in a better role than simply henchman?) he has little else in terms of character. With little to go on for most of the film it is no wonder then that his climactic battle is also not that great. Actually, most of the fighting in this film is lacking in one respect or another.
The Secret Service gave us a fight sequence that stands out as one of the greatest scenes of all time, so why are all the fights in this so bad? The camera is nowhere near as fluid as in the first film, instead choosing more jerky motions to signify speed rather than beautifully utilised choreography. Two of the main fights of the third act – which is where the main characters take out the last remaining henchmen before the final boss battle – are reduced to the leads fighting off against CGI foes. If I wanted that I would just watch a Transformers movie! Even the “surprise” final battle was underwhelming. Although it featured a pair up I wish had been included in the first instalment it packed hardly any of the punch (pun?) that the fights of the first film had. For what should have had me cheering and punching the air with glee brought a sly smile that was quickly removed after how quickly the fight was resolved.
Despite the long list of negatives, this is still a very decent film, Although the positives do not outweigh the negatives, when the film is good, it is very good.
Taron Egerton is wonderful and I want him to be my friend. Although the balance of Eggsy’s past life persona and the Kingsman persona is a bit jarring when placed next to one another he manages to be one of the best things in a film stuffed with higher accoladed talent. The fact that his name is only third on the running order after his colleagues is an outrage. He can lead a film, prime placement should echo that.
An emotional scene midway through the second act hints at how good this film could have been. Whilst brilliantly calling back to a major part of the first film, the events of this solitary moment of greatness almost had me in tears.
Funnily enough The Golden Circle does something out of the blue that other spy franchises COUGHCOUGHBONDIMLOOKINGATYOUCOUGHCOUGH have consistently failed at, and that is represent relationships. The surprise but ultimately welcome return of what in a Bond film would have been a throwaway character, once again taps into this emotional core that begs to be seen throughout this film, and shows us real world implications of the troubles caused on relationships by the spy life. Whilst certain scenes are purposely adult for comedic effect, the day to day runnings of this relationship within this genre adds another of those unique elements that made the first film so great. It was truly lovely to see and something I hope gets more time in the inevitable sequel.
But still… even with these great bits there are just too many missteps. In addition to everything I have said before there is the whole event regarding Mark Strong’s Merlin, the awful use of the Deus Ex Machina in regards to the “magic gel” and memory reboot methods, plus a run time that feels bloated despite a lack of intricate plot.
All in all this is a messy film with some poor choices throughout. It is not awful, but it is not amazing either. With a final scene that acts as a sequel hook / spin off idea / passing the torch moment we are undoubtedly going to see the Kingsman again, lets just hope that the remember what made the first one so great and learn from the mistakes of the second.
Watch Again? – Yes
Buy on DVD/Blu Ray – Yes, but only because I own the first one and like having complete sets of things.