“Manners maketh man.” – Harry Hart, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
From that line which began a well-choreographed bar fight, audiences realized that the first Kingsman movie was not going to be a regular spy thriller. The stylish and all around fun film, filled with innuendos, humor, and violence, became a breakout in 2014. It had to warrant a sequel based on the financial and commercial success, but the question for all sequels is if it would measure up to the original. Attending an early screening on Monday night, The Golden Circle comes close by keeping what worked in the film, but didn’t quite hit the standard mark that the original set.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle continues the adventures of Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), a Kingsman agent. Eggsy has been with the spy organization for a year after the events of the first film. When Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a global entrepreneur and criminal mastermind, uses her resources to attack all of the Kingsman, Eggsy and remaining member, Merlin (Mark Strong), uncover a secret in their “doomsday” protocol that leads them to the United States and to sister organization, Statesmen. Teaming up with members such as Ginger (Halle Berry), Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and a returning Harry Hart (Colin Firth), they seek to stop Poppy from global domination.
How Harry was able to return after being shot in the head by Samuel L. Jackson’s eccentric villain, Valentine, was explained so I didn’t gripe that much about it. For those who want to see the film, I won’t spoil that part for you, but safe to say that Harry is far from his old self when we catch up with him. From the opening car fight and chase scene, the sequel looked to start with all motors running to thrust the audience back into this spy filled world. It was more funnier once the Statesmen are introduced and Channing Tatum putting on his best southern accent to represent to American cowboy. This film serves as a tongue-in-cheek take on America with the Wild West-style weaponry, characters, and their bourbon distillery headquarters. It provides a hysterical exaggeration of the frontier justice warrior America often projects to the world, even though we don’t all wear the hats much anymore. Where the Kingsman do everything with a bit of style and class, the Statesmen are less refined in their methods to get the job done.
While the first film is marked by its criticism of the British class system, the sequel illustrates how drug use is the great class equalizer; something that affects people of all walks of life. I won’t spoil anything else beyond that point, but this film does try to vilify those who would put down drug users even though it also sends a contradictory message that people shouldn’t do drugs.
Julianne Moore’s cheery, ’50’s TV mom demeanor makes you not even think she’s crazy, but once you are introduced to her, you find out that you are wrong. The ruthlessness that hides behind that ’50’s-era smile and attitude is somewhat scary. She grew up on Fifties nostalgia — Grease, Happy Days, American Graffiti — and influenced her to create “Poppy Land”, her homage and monument of America’s past of the Eisenhower-Elvis era. A strong villain that you would think about giving a cup of sugar to or inviting over for coffee; the only question is who would make it out of that house. Moore gave a great, colorful performance and stealing every scene that she was in. Egerton continues to prove himself as a winning, charismatic screen presence, Colin Firth shines as he explores a new vulnerable layer of his super-spy character. Channing Tatum isn’t in the film as much as you would think, but still great fun when you see him. Halle Berry’s Ginger Ale is sweet, but underserved and could have been used a little more. Mark Strong, flexing his baritone-singing muscles with a rendition of “Country Roads”, was comical but a strong core in this movie.
My criticism of the film comes from the over-stylized action. I know it’s what made the first film great (remember the church scene?), but I feel like the director relied too much on CGI action, especially near the final battle against their nemesis. The 141 minute runtime is also a bit troublesome. Normally, if you are having fun watching a movie, you barely notice the run time. But there are some scenes that could have been cut or this movie could have shaved off a few minutes to tighten up the story. Some sequels don’t need an extensive run time. While some criticize The Secret Service for their crude, sexual ending, this film tried to atone for that with a more cheerful happy ending. There is a similar sexual but comedic scene in this movie involving a different female character, but rather than treating this woman flippantly, this results in consequences that must be dealt with as the film moves forward. It was a smart call by director Matthew Vaughn, who made sure we remained emotionally invested in these characters.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is as cartoonish and crazy as its predecessor, but is also unafraid to demolish what it built before, especially if it services the story. Despite the runtime, having a more abundance of stars, and not matching up with the first, this film will be a joyous delight to those who loved The Secret Service as we watch Eggsy and his team meet up with their amusing counterparts.