By Jack Dignan
Spy movies have always been fun. They were once larger than life, excessive and ridiculously good times, full of gadgets and cars and attractive love interests for our heroes. It was an action sub-genre never meant to be taken seriously, or at least not until the late 90s/early 2000s. Action movies, or more specifically spy movies, took a more serious leap into grounded, hard-hitting action with political agendas. To this day, they’ve mostly remained as such, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Film changes with the times. But it’s hard not to forget what they once were. James Bond wasn’t always full of torture and emotional climaxes. It did, at one point, have jetpacks and trips to the moon.
That’s when Kingsman: The Secret Service came along and took the world by storm. It was the perfect throwback to the ridiculous spy movies of old, with lethal gadgets disguised in umbrellas and a complete throwaway of modern trends. The film was crude, gruesome and unrelenting in nature, as well as being absolutely hysterical. At the worldwide box office, it clocked in over $400,000,000, making it a massive success. A sequel was inevitable. Now it’s here. While no longer based on the six issue comic book mini-series, Kingsman: The Golden Circle picks up where we last left off, exploring the further adventures of the heroes we’ve come to know and love.
Agent Galahad, or Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as we know him, is at the top of his game, kicking ass side by side with best friend Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and sharing a house with his girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). But Kingsman is at an end. An unforeseen attack leaves almost the entire staff dead. They’re forced outside of their comfort zones and into the wild, where Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are on the run. Their attacker, it turns out, is a woman named Poppy (Julianne Moore), who has a secret agenda that could threaten the entire world. Kingsman’s last known agents must travel to America, where they’re to team up with local spy agency Statesman and gain assistance in saving the world.
It’s bigger, louder and more devastating than the first, even less restricted and more controversial than ever (a certain sex scene has already got people talking). As a fan of the first, I was beyond ready for the follow-up, and it certainly delivers. Gone is the magic and initial charm of the first installment, replacing a lot of the heart for larger stunts and better jokes, but director Mathew Vaughn’s signature style and frivolous sense of humour is better than ever, even if the CGI takes somewhat of a noticeable downgrade. Still, his sandbox is expanded. The world is bigger. Yet he, along with co-writer Jane Goldman, still keep it firmly grounded within the universe at hand. What happens in Kingsman stays in Kingsman.
Taron Egerton ups the charm and charisma the second go around, allowing his gentleman agent protagonist to not necessarily develop all that much as a character, but at least expand in personality. He’s more of the same, but the character works for the purpose of the film and he’s even more likeable than ever before. One of the downsides to killing off Colin Firth’s character in the original is that his chemistry with Egerton was phenomenal, arguably even the best aspect of the movie, and while the trailers have endlessly advertised his return from the grave (which isn’t a spoiler, it happens very early on), the sub-plot doesn’t have the same effect as it did the first time around.
Egerton and Firth’s roles are reversed in a strange way, and without delving into the actual spoilers behind his reincarnation, I wasn’t a fan of what went down. A lot of screen time is dedicated to explaining why he’s alive as we spend time reintroducing him to this world, but it’s a tacked on addition with very little impact on the overall plot, save for one plot twist that doesn’t get much justification and undermines Julianne Moore’s character significantly. Moore herself gives a fantastic and eccentric performance, but her character weavers in the shadow of the first film’s villains. She, and everything else in this film, feels like a b-grade version of what we’ve already seen. A lot of the plot is a real missed opportunity to do something great.
The world may be expanded, but the storyline doesn’t get any new additions. Structurally, it’s a slow burner, especially evident given its 141-minute runtime. An opening action sequence is off the charts good, in fact every action sequence is, but once the plot kicks into gear, it replicates the first film entirely. There’s a virus effecting mankind, a one-shot action sequence, a villain with near identical motives, a genetically enhanced henchman, and even a bar fight with some drunken assholes. Some of it is forgivable due to its intentional nature, especially that of the Statesmen, who are meant to be an American replica of Kingsman, but everything else just feels very predictable.
On top of that, Kingsman: The Golden Circle falls into the trap that many franchises, including Marvel, DC and Star Trek, have fallen into before. It provides a cure for death. Once this is done, it kills nearly all tension during the sequences to come, because you know that if something bad is really going to happen, the character’s colleagues can just bring them back to life. Granted, the same can’t be said for the rest of the world’s population, who are under threat from Poppy throughout most of the runtime, but for the characters we actually get to know and love, they become invincible warlords who can’t be stopped.
Realistically, it’s hard to top the original Kingsman film. That was a movie that blew things out of the water with its style, humour and retro feel. Oh, how the sequel tries to top it, even introducing a show-stealing Elton John into the mix, but it falls shy of reaching the original’s glory. On another note, it does mark the second Channing Tatum film this year to feature a side character singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” so I’m hoping he has a contractual obligation to include that in all of his upcoming movies.
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