Kingsman: The Golden Circle October 2, 2017
2 Hrs., 21 Mins.
hen Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service premiered in 2015, it made for a binaca-soaked breath of fresh air. What had been marketed as a sort of cartoonishly violent, more cheekily humorous take on the James Bond formula proved itself to be one of the more original action films of that year: acerbic, stylish, playful, funny. Not unlike Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007) or Vaughn’s own Kick-Ass (2010), it laughed in the face of convention, won audiences over, and ended up a commercially beloved commodity. It was the little action locomotive that could.
But while I enjoyed the film upon my first viewing a couple years ago — though I was wary of the way its horrific violence lined up with its sharpened slapstick humor — I wasn’t so sure I was excited for The Golden Circle, the sequel which was announced shortly after the first film’s premiere. With a preceding feature so breezily fun and original when compared to other movies residing within the action zeitgeist, it didn’t seem necessary to make things bigger and better, as so many sequels try to do.
Watching The Golden Circle after these many months of promos, it still doesn’t seem necessary: so many of the characteristics that made The Secret Service appealing are either completely forfeited for flash or only briefly touched upon. Zip is lost in the drawn-out two-and-a-half-hour running time; smarmy zingers are traded for jokes that don’t land and incessant swirls of earnestness accompanied by saccharine orchestrals.
Whereas The Secret Service was remarkably self-aware and unabashedly pleased with itself, The Golden Circle only imitates the surface details that made the former so likable. It looks the part, but sacrifices the heart and the comic heft for star power and action-packed volume. Only remaining is the Warby Parker mania and the impressive assemblage of haute couture monkey suits.
In the film, the previous movie’s protagonist, Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), is forced to wrestle with two major, cataclysmic events: the destruction of the Kingsman headquarters by an enigmatic force, and the rise of Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin whose ambitions might have genocidal repercussions.
But for the storyline’s relative simplicity, The Golden Circle is still messy and unfocused thanks to an inclusion of too many subplots and characters. To supplement the central story, it additionally introduces the Statesman — the Kingman organization’s U.S. counterparts — and throws a heaping of A-listers into the blender and makes gratuitous detours just to give them something to do.
It doesn’t help that the movie also attempts to tug the heartstrings (Eggsy’s in a serious relationship now; a former colleague thought to be dead is actually alive and amnesiac), and tries to be politically relevant (the tough-loving American president is a gross fusion of George W. Bush and Donald Trump).
None of these aforementioned supplementations are necessarily negative things in themselves. But because the feature seems so strained in its trying to include them, it feels overstuffed and self-conscious, never making its new ideas and characters much more than lines on a page.
Most detrimental to the feature’s success is its villain, a bizarre 1950s fetishist who speaks like Betty Crocker and promotes cannibalism and other atrocities with the latter brand's sunniness. Though Moore is an adept comedic actress, she’s as miscast as the screenplay’s tonally confused: we never quite figure out Poppy Adams, and when a spy movie has a head scratch of an antagonist to contend with, you know you’re in trouble. Consider that a particularly great James Bond movie also happens to have an exceptional villain. The Golden Circle’s awkward villainy summarizes the film’s flaws: too fixated on being subversive, too broad, too mannered to be fun.
The movie’s bound to become a commercial success — the group of friends with whom I attended a screening all liked the film, with a couple even proclaiming that they relished it even more than they did the predecessor — but my reservations regarding the decline in quality are pronounced. Just because you can afford Moore, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Elton John (in a cloyingly long cameo) doesn’t mean a lack of cohesion can be smothered. C