Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
Rated R, 2 hr 21 min
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Hanna Alström, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Edward Holcroft, Poppy Delevingne
Director Matthew Vaughn’s KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE was a bloody, bombastic and uncompromising take on the Bond franchise that made audiences feel as if they were watching something completely refreshing and (minus one glaringly awful line) fully satisfying. Sad to say the auteur’s sequel, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, is more schlock than shock when it comes to injecting a similar shot of adrenaline. This follow-up plays everything far too safe – which is the most shocking thing about it.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is managing his duty towards the elite secret organization known as “Kingsman,” and balancing a committed relationship with Sweden’s Girl Who Allowed Anal Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström) when he’s called to a new challenge. After Kingsman headquarters and all of its agents are torpedoed, leaving only Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) alive, they’re forced to seek aid from an allied spy organization in the U.S. known as the “Statesman.” They’ve got a surprise for him (one revealed in all the marketing materials): Eggsy’s mentor Harry (Colin Firth), once-thought dead, is actually alive, though suffering from amnesia. Together, these two highly skilled teams must take down an emerging threat – the “Golden Circle,” led by Poppy (Julianne Moore), a sadistic, sociopathic business woman poised to let loose a devastating plague on humanity.
Perhaps the best sequence of the whole film is the opener, wherein Eggsy and bitter, rejected Kingsman rival Charlie (Edward Holcroft) engage in fisticuffs in the back of a cab. Set to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” it’s the most effervescent sequence, embodying the wild creativity and catchy pop artistry of the song. That said, it’s still no ATOMIC BLONDE in syncing stunt work and songs, but points for Vaughn’s attempt. The filmmakers attempt to repeat it later with the thrill of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” only it wears thin thanks to a decent but drawn-out cameo role (one I won’t spoil here, but you’ll see listed on IMDB).
The remaining action sequences pale in comparison to the 2014 original. There’s far less vibrancy, commentary or cleverness beneath the surface of Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s script. Distinctly missing is the original’s metaphorical two middle-fingers in the face of traditionalists. In fact, the run time is overly-padded with sluggish, unnecessary and predictable action. The gentleman sitting next to me felt the need to call out what would happen next in the ensuing plot shenanigans – something that was both exasperating and helpful as he wasn’t wrong. They fight bigoted rednecks again – this time in a watered-down iteration of the original’s church scene. This sequence in particular severely lacks in any sort of cutting satire where there could’ve easily been some. Otherwise, why bother repeating it? They also dance around euphemisms more than before, here with an annoyingly aware wink/ nod. When they’ve already gone there, why regress?! The cable car gondola sequence plays like a passionless smashup of the tram and centrifuge scenes in MOONRAKER. If you’re gonna pay homage to that Bond film, at least give me a pigeon double-take. It’s just the conduit to get you to the next big action moments later, and that’s what every big set piece feels like – an underwhelming stepping stone to the next.
Character-wise, it has trouble rectifying the treatment of female characters. While they unmake Tilde as a “whore” (something the original turned her into in the end), and never think about objectifying Statesman’s med-tech gal Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) or badass baddie Poppy (instead putting them in positions of power), their debasement of Charlie’s ex-girlfriend Clara (Poppy Delevingne) is horrendous at best. The camera’s male-gaze on her is even worse, bordering on full trashy sleaze as it glides in close-up down her body. Her fleeting agency (and I’m being generous even calling it that) is exercised once when she turns away Whiskey (Pedro Pascal).
Though there’s some fun in seeing new characters introduced into the universe – like Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila (Channing Tatum) – but what keeps audiences tethered to the picture are Moore and Strong, who both seem like they’re enjoying free reign over their characters. The filmmakers do some inventive work building out Strong’s gadget guy/ “man in the chair,” putting him in unexpected environments. But it’s Moore who’s a villainous revelation. She nails her character’s duality – sweet and sour without being manic or over-the-top. She’s wickedly delicious as a capable, restrained madwoman. She can make a mean, spot-on pun as easily as she can a delectable Soylent Green-inspired burger.
Listen, if you found the first chapter to be “too much,” or offensive, then maybe this second chapter is for you. But for all others, with most of the wild irreverence gone, this one is more pyrite than gold.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE opens on September 22.