Editor Chloe Woods takes a look at Matthew Vaughn’s blockbuster sequel.
Two facts are indisputable. Matthew Vaughn likes to blow people up. And he can make a bloody good movie. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is everything its predecessor was and then some – more chaotic, more creatively ridiculous, more irreverent, and ultimately more fun. Where The Secret Service dragged early on, The Golden Circle feels no need to explain its parameters and plunges audiences straight into a wild ride.
Indeed, the metaphor of the rollercoaster is apt, because Kingsman – like so many of its ilk – is a masterclass in producing the impression of danger and thrills while knowing we are securely strapped in. Of course the world will be saved. Of course things will return to pretty much as they were before, give or take an allegiance or two and the deaths of people who apparently don’t matter in the first place. Or should, but tone is hard to balance and the poignancy of loss doesn’t settle easily against a background of such low stakes – and I do mean low because, whatever other boundaries it pushes, the Kingsman films will not allow them to be genuinely high. Yet into this The Golden Circle tries to inject a realism and sombreness around individual death that – I’m not saying it couldn’t work. There are no rules here. But it doesn’t work. I’m not sure how far these films can go on attitude alone: as much fun as the Kingsman movies are, and as much as I’ve enjoyed both far, I’m not raving to see a third one.
All the same. It’s a good movie. For the value of good that means quality.
Plot – you wanted plot? Taron Egerton’s Eggsy emerges from the Kingsman Tailor’s shop and comes face-to-face with an enemy he thought dead, but who has in fact been cyborg’d. There are some explosions. Poppy (Julianne Moore), queen of all she surveys in a faux-fifties diner complex hidden in the middle of the jungle, steps into play as the villain of the piece: delightfully unhinged, armed with “the mincer” (it’s exactly what it sounds like) and a pair of vicious robotic dogs (good doggies), and ready to unleash a megomaniacal doomsday plan upon the planet. There are more explosions. We are introduced to the Statesmen – the American counterparts of the Kingsmen, with whisky (note spelling) in the place of tailored suits and one damned good Indiana Jones impression. Actually, I think Indy had a bit less finesse with a whip. More explosions, some shenanigans with a cable car, a rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads that might leave you unable to hear that song the same way again followed by a joke about heroin overdoses followed by a sob story about dead loved ones fit to give you whiplash – and the good guys win.
There’s probably some sophisticated point to be made here about the James Bond movies, those paragons of the spy-action genre, and the Kingsman series’ efforts to parody/pay homage to/play off Bond’s established tropes. Unfortunately, your reviewer (as reminded at the screening when her rowmate attempted to draw her into conversation about Daniel Craig’s performance) has seen, approximately, two and a half Bond films, of which the only enduring memories are Honey Ryder in a bikini, Judi Dench’s wonderful (spoilers) death scene and the pristine blandness that was Spectre. Certainly the similarities are evident. The Golden Circle has shucked off the shackles a little in favour of growing into its own thing, which might be welcomed if we all approved of the own thing.
There are three things to contend with here. First is, if (spoilers) the anal sex joke in The Secret Service bothered you, there are a couple of scenes in this film you’re not going to like – and they don’t wait for the end credits. But that’s a whole nother discussion about our society’s attitudes towards sex (versus representations of violence, in terms of women and gender roles, in terms of films-as-provocation, etcetera, etcetera). Second, this film probably thinks it’s being progressive in terms of representation, but Halle Berry’s Ginger stands out as one of two important female characters and the only important non-white character to make it to the end of the film – and when I say “important”, I don’t mean she actually gets to do anything. Multiple people don’t get to do anything interesting for more than a couple of scenes: we’re playing with an overloaded cast here.
And third, the film tries to talk politics. Oh, gods, it tries to talk politics – which mostly feels like being hit over the head with a baseball bat, or the reverse of one of those anti-drug PSAs from the 80s. Though I will say (and I’m sure this was in place before the November elections), the US president still manages to be less cartoonishly evil than the one America actually has.
But if you can turn your brain off from all that, you’ll find Elton John (as himself) in a couple of his best classic outfits stealing scenes from everyone but Julianne Moore, an otherwise solid cast (Mark Strong stands out as Merlin), a few of the most out-there and technically impressive action scenes you’re likely to come across this year, a fair number of laughs, and a vaguely satisfying saved-the-world ending. Truth is, there’s something about these films that a lot of people truly love, and as someone who’s liked them but not loved them I can’t precisely figure out what it is: but if you did love the first one, I’d hazard you’re likely enough to love The Golden Circle too. And if not, cover your eyes for the uncomfortable bits and hum John Denver to yourself.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is out now in UK cinemas. Trailer below: