The following is a review of Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Directed by Matthew Vaughn
If you’ve ever seen Morgan Spurlock’s Academy Award nominated McDonalds documentary called Super Size Me, then you’re familiar with what a super-size portion is. For the uninitiated, I can report that a super-size portion at McDonalds was an extra large portion of fries or soda that one was offered before Spurlock’s documentary.
To the best of my knowledge, McDonalds eventually stopped selling super-sized portions of their products, or, at the very least, rebranded the portion. It should come as no shock to anyone that a super-sized portion is more unhealthy than the regular portions — in this case, bigger isn’t better.
The same can be said for action movies. Pack them up with too much and you risk ruining the final product. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. But when the final product is bigger, then it is easier to sell. Thus a lot of sequels suffer from what is normally referred to as ‘sequelitis,’ which is a term that describes a certain type of problematic sequel. Now, Matthew Vaughn, the man who co-wrote and directed both the first film and this sequel, has never directed a sequel prior to The Golden Circle.
The closest thing to it was his superhero mutant prequel X-Men: First Class. But when it became time to continue the X-Men film series, he only served as one of the many writers behind X-Men: Days of Future Past. When his other comedic comic book movie franchise, Kick-Ass, was getting a sequel, then he stood on the sidelines as a producer while Jeff Wadlow directed Kick-Ass 2.
He is back for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. However, it doesn’t feel like he really knew how to continue the series. Although The Golden Circle is very fun to watch, it is plagued by the aforementioned sequelitis condition and it almost falls apart as a result.
In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, ‘Eggsy’ (played by Taron Egerton) has been given the codename Agent Galahad, which Harry Hart (played by Colin Firth) was once known as, and he also lives in his former mentor’s home with his new girlfriend, who you should remember from the first film. But it doesn’t take long before his world is turned upside down, when the Kingsman offices are suddenly blown up by the organization known as The Golden Circle, led by the criminal mastermind Poppy Adams (played by Julianne Moore).
In search for answers, Eggsy and Merlin (played by Mark Strong) travel to America to investigate what seems to be their American counterpart, the Statesman — a spy agency posing as a whiskey company, where their spies are dressed as cowboys and are named after types of alcohol. After meeting Agent Tequila (played by Channing Tatum), they are introduced to a lepidopterist who they may or may not be familiar with.
I loved Kingsman: The Secret Service. I really enjoyed pretty much everything about it. I am such a big fan of the first film that I revisit and rewatch it more than any other spy film. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I will revisit this film as often. So, let’s start with my issues with the film, because I’ve got a lot to get to. First off, I had a lot of issues with the first act. There is a lot of great, albeit slightly jarring, action in the opening scenes, but the opening act also keeps hitting you over the head with the fact that it is a sequel.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved a lot of the callbacks to The Secret Service (and I’ll mention one of them in my positives). That isn’t the issue here. The problem is that there are these scenes with ham-fisted and clumsy expository dialogue that only exist to remind you of what happened in the first film. I was also disappointed by how many great new additions to the universe are, essentially, wasted here. Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum deserved much more screen time than they, ultimately, get, and Halle Berry doesn’t really add much to the film, unfortunately.
I also have an issue with some of the deaths in the film. At a certain point, a beloved character passes away in a fantastic scene that is right in line with the film’s tone. However, that death scene is trivialized slightly by the fact that the film basically desensitizes you to the death and destruction by killing off several people in the first act, including a character I would call a fan-favorite.
I think that it is problematic that The Golden Circle basically recycles the plot outline for The Secret Service. When you pair all of the many callbacks with plot-points such as an introduction to an unknown and undercover agency of which we knew nothing beforehand, a villain able to distribute his or her drug or device to people all over the world, a missing celebrity, and world leaders willing to go along with the plan of a villain, then the film is ultimately going to feel very familiar, which it does.
I thought it was a really bad decision on the filmmakers part to shoehorn in a subplot about American politicians. Now, you may respond to this by saying that the American President was in the first film. You would be right, a President who seemed to have been based on President Obama was in the first film, but he did not play a big part in the overall plot of the first film.
Instead, in The Golden Circle, we have a character in the White House, who seems to have been, at the very least in part, inspired by Hillary Clinton, as well as an American President with Trump-like mannerisms, played by Bruce Greenwood in a very over-the-top performance, who refuses to help the dying public. It could’ve worked much better had they not shoehorned it in as a significant part of the villain’s plan.
But, really, my main problem with this film is how much of a juggling act it is, seeing as that juggling act results in what is an overlong final product. The film introduces the Statesman, includes a focus on the Swedish Princess from the first film (but, strangely, doesn’t really mention Eggsy’s family), features plenty of scenes with the villain played by Julianne Moore, has more action than you could possibly hope for, and still has to somehow bring back Colin Firth’s character. It is a lot, and the juggling act isn’t entirely successful as the Statesman is slightly underwhelming, in part, due to how little we see of Bridges and Tatum in the film.
Moving on now to my positives. I know that a lot of people are going to have a lot to say about the return of Harry Hart, the original Agent Galahad. Now, I don’t consider that a spoiler seeing as Firth has been all over the posters and has appeared in multiple, if not all of the, trailers. The explanation for his return is iffy at best and unsatisfying at worst, but the film tries to justify it by returning to and reusing the ‘device’ that explains his return at a later point in the film.
Unsurprisingly, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is best when centered around Harry and Eggsy. They are really fun to watch together, and once the film lets the both of them settle into their roles with each other everything just clicks. Vaughn hasn’t lost his touch for exceptionally exhilarating and stylish action scenes, and adding a lasso, and lasso-like gadgets, to the series was a brilliant idea.
The marketing has presented Channing Tatum as the main Statesman agent, but, as I mentioned, he is barely in the film and is, essentially sidelined for most of the film. Thankfully, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has an ace in the hole in the form of Agent Whiskey, played by the fantastic Pedro Pascal. He is one of the standout performers in the sequel.
Another one of the highlights of the film is Elton John, who, in the film, has been abducted by Julianne Moore’s character. I loved seeing him take part in the fun final act, wherein he gets to beat up a guy and wink at the camera while doing it. It’s that sort of tongue-in-cheek humor that I love to see from celebrity cameos. He also has what may be the line of the movie. In a fantastic callback to the controversial Swedish Princess scene from The Secret Service, Elton John offers a ‘backstage pass’ to one of the central characters if he manages to save the world. What a delightful callback.
This is going to be one of those times where I sound more negative than I am. I enjoyed the movie a lot, but I’m definitely somewhat disappointed. But it is a movie that I can recommend, although not entirely enthusiastically. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun popcorn movie with a lot of really cool action, but it also suffers from some of the same issues that dozens of other blockbuster sequels do. Bigger isn’t always better.
7 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex