2017 | rated R | starring Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alstrom, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson | directed by Matthew Vaughn | 2hrs 21mins |
When left to his own devices (not helming an X-Men movie), writer/director Matthew Vaughn makes one type of movie. Big, loud, CGI-heavy, gravity-defying sugar-rush action movies that’s crassness gleefully dances around the audience’s expected taste, whether it’s cursing kids, anal sex jokes or blowing off the heads of real world leaders. It’s his style. Both Kick-Ass and the first Kingsman: The Secret Service leaped into well established comic book movie tropes and flipped them on their head. Now comes Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a film that may not be as aggressively iconoclastic as the first film, but does settle comfortably into the task of keeping up the franchise fun.
On paper, the things that make up the Kingsman films read out like the insults often inflicted on audiences by bad, lazy movies made by bad, lazy filmmakers. But Vaughn and Kingsman aren’t lazy, making perfect examples of how CGI, hyper-editing and anal jokes are not inherently bad. They are tools that while often wielded by the lowest common denominator can be elevated by someone who knows how to use them well. Simply, Kingsman is funnier and more inventive than a lot of equally over-blown studio films. The one-liners hit, they have their own personality and Vaughn revels in punctuating the action scenes with some wild stunt or gruesome death. It’s got style to burn.
Vaughn knows that much of the fun of the first film was discovering the secret spy world of The Kingsman. So they retread that formula but in a clever and stealthy way, continuing the adventures of Eggsy (Taron Egerton, easing more comfortably into the gentleman spy role) while at the same time introducing us to the world of The Statesman, the U.S. independent agency modeled after prototypical Texan cowboys that finance their operations with sales of distilled whiskey. When the Kingsman’s headquarters is destroyed by villainous Columbian drug lord Poppy (Julianne Moore, having a blast) they take refuge in the Alabama based headquarters that happened to be close to the famous “Church Fight” from the first film. Each agent is code named after alcohol, they ride down into their home base in a giant whiskey barrel and have weapons like grenades disguised as baseballs. It’s all a bit of fun American trope poking from across the pond. Though the movie has heavily advertised the star-studded cast of Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Channing Tatum playing right into type they’re involvement is little more than one of many glorified cameos, with the bulk of Statesman action given to Pablo Pascal, who is a complete hoot in the role of a mustached cowboy with an electrified laser lasso.
Meanwhile, in the middle of the Columbian jungle, Moore’s Poppy has set up an evil liar in true James Bond villain fashion built like an Americana main street with all the stores named after her. She operates out of a 50s dinner in the middle of town where she forces henchmen into gruesome displays of loyalty, brands them with the molten Golden Circle mark, commands an army of fembots and robot dogs and entertains herself with her only hostage: Elton John. Where the first Kingsman had lisping Samuel L. Jackson attacking the world with our smart phone addiction, Poppy has infected the world with a brutal virus of progressing side effects hidden in her drug supply. She holds the world hostage and demands the U.S. president (played by Bruce Greenwood in an obvious Richard Nixon impression because, drugs) end the War on Drugs. It’s here where Kingsman‘s purposeful smart take on dumb comedy lets it wander into specific political issue commentary that would be heavy-handed in lesser hands. Moore is terrific here, relishing in the monologing villain role.
Nothing is subtle here, everything is over-the-top, from the very beginning where not a minute goes by before we are suddenly thrown into a protracted fight scene inside a speeding cab that looks phonier and more animated than the motorcycle chase in Uncharted 4. Vaughn scatters the film with several faux-single-take Church Scene style fights, dragging them out to exhaustion. Not to mention there are about 4 or 5 too many Elton John jokes. He goes from funny cameo to having his own full character arc. But we also get to see what’s going on, Vaughn’s hyper-kinetic style avoiding the shaky cam or Michael Bay’s cluttered up screen.
For such a big movie, I admire how brazen and specific The Kingsman movies are in their personality and delivery. I don’t mind crass or dumb, but I don’t like broad and there is nothing broad here. It challenges you to go along for the ride with it’s own specific candy-coated bubble-gum pop insanity. Vaughn pushes the film into aggressive entertainment with a keen eye for what worked in the first film and how best to revisit it in a fresh way. Even if it doesn’t approach the head-popping, baby-threatening nihilism of the first film, it does keep the train on the tracks and potentially re-paces the series for future installments. The series foundation, it’s world, it’s edge, it’s character interplay is all very solid. For fans of the series, Golden Circle is more of the same. In this case, that’s a very good thing.