Kingsman: The Golden Circle

*SPOILERS*

With their successful 2012 comic book series, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons set the tone and laid the foundation for Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015).  The critical and commercial success of the super spy comedy duly secured the existence of Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Armed with a bigger budget and remit to shock and entertain, Kingsman 2 tries to deliver in spades.  This time, everything is bigger, bolder and louder.  From the sets to the stakes, the sequel clearly wants to up the ante.  It is unabashedly Bond on crack, with a generous dollop of comedy.

Vaughn has developed a film-making style that is hip, tongue-in-cheek and highly kinetic – elements that make him a natural fit for a Millar tale.

We get a welcome expansion of Kingsman's super spy mythos in the form of Statesman.  The Brits' American cousins serve as a contrast to the genteel sensibilities of Harry & Co.  The star-studded cast includes the likes of Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum and Pedro Pascal. The casting is very much appropriate (was extremely stoked to see The Dude), and the said Statesman agents are quite entertaining. These whiskey-swilling enthusiasts, housed in their hilarious bottle-shaped HQ, take on a key role in The Golden Circle.

The set designers have crafted some superb locales.  Apart from Statesman's base of operations, Poppyland is a great setting – a fantastical ancient temple-cum-50s-themed chimaera.  The likes of Goldfinger, Dr No and Blofeld would certainly want a house visit.

The molten core of the films remains the relationships between the cast members.  Colin Firth and Taron Egerton continue to share wonderful chemistry, and the gentleman-yob, father-son dynamic remains a strong element of the film.

Firth is one of the pillars of the Kingsman movies. Here, he puts in an excellent transformative performance. It is great to see the mild-mannered lepidopterist return to the Harry that we know and love. His signature mantra, “Manners. Maketh. Man.”, of course makes a return, although this time to less formidable effect.  The use of the butterfly metaphors for the elder Galahad are also apt, given Harry's integral role in the metamorphosis of Eggsy.

Egerton continues to deliver as the likeable lad. The challenge is balancing his innate yob-ness with his shiny new status as Galahad. By bringing in Eggsy's mates, the producers have tried to keep some of the balance. It's also nice to see him shed his smart suits for his plainclothes chav gear on several occasions.

There's a sprinkling of heart.  Harry's recollection scene involving Mr Pickles, as well as Merlin's rousing swansong, are some of the notable scenes in this regard.

We've come to expect England's finest to be togged out in the sharpest suits. And they don't disappoint. The immaculately-tailored, clean-cut double-breasted suits are the theme of the day.  The use of accessories is also notable, in particular the monogrammed Kingsman briefcase / machine gun / shield. That should give Louis Vuitton a run for its money. Agent Tequila's electric lasso is another interesting addition to the superspy arsenal.

Vaughn provides us with his usual madcap style of action. Tequila's impressive gunplay and lasso wielding exploits are some of the better action sequences. Also, there's a marvellous two-man action scene in Poppyland involving both Galahads and the use of machine guns, the said briefcase and some baseball grenades.

The deliberately irreverent style of humour from Kingsman: The Secret Service remains a constant.

The cantankerous, expletive-spouting Sir Elton John is comedy gold, and perhaps the star of the show.  His excellent comic timing drew more than a few laughs, and the living legend manages to prove that his comic timing is just as spot-on as his musical notes.

The child-like US President is ostensibly a Trump parody, and one of the ways in which Vaughn & Co try to reference modern day events and characters.

It's refreshing to see the anti-James Bond theme touched on in The Golden Circle.  At Glastonbury, Eggsy avoids taking on the role of a philandering lothario.  He is also a feminist who supports Halle Berry's bid to be the next Agent Whiskey. Clearly, this ain't your daddy's James Bond.

In this connection, Harry also chimes in as he relates to Eggsy the woes of a middle-aged Bond. Unsurprisingly, this version of 007 suffers from loneliness and a lack of emotional connection.

The soundtrack is another terrific element. From John Denver to (of course) Elton John, the new arrangements for famous tunes such as the likes of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Word Up!” are good fun.

Having said all of this, the movie is not without its difficulties.

Julianne Moore's cheerfully menacing Ms Poppy doesn't leave much of an impression as the chief antagonist.  While her 50s-themed lair (complete with diner and bowling alley) is a refreshing element, the character itself is not developed.  Poppy's kooky, maniacal overtures are fun at first, but soon border on the annoying.

Edward Holcroft's Charlie Hesketh is merely window dressing.  The chief purpose of the henchman is really his six million dollar man-arm.  That bionic appendage serves as a convenient plot device to trigger the annihilation of most of England's finest.  One simple hack culminating in the (near) utter devastation of the organization?  Seems like Kingsman needs to invest heavily in firewalls and IT security.

Much like Hesketh, the robot dogs are really not very interesting, and seem to be employed merely as a device to set-up the Elton John comedy scenes.

There are tons of thrills and spills.  And in the midst of the high-octane action, there are some fine moments featuring our protagonists.  The sense, unfortunately, is that there is an overwhelming desire for the sequel to just out-Michael Bay the first installment.  The fireworks and explosions threaten to drown out the quality scenes, particularly the interactions involving Eggsy, Harry and Merlin.

Halle Berry seems a waste.  This time, she plays the bookish tech whiz.  While it is a different role from what we have come to expect from her, the character ends up being little more than a water carrier.

Merlin's untimely sacrifice also doesn't seem very earned.  While Mark Strong's “Take Me Home, Country Roads” finale salute is poignant, the decision to off Kingsman's resident Q feels abrupt and purposeless.  Perhaps the actor wasn't keen on the third installment of the franchise.  Then again, with all the Harry and Tequila faux-death shenanigans, one can never be certain about mortality in the Kingsman movies.

And this brings us to the return of Harry.  The supreme spymaster's untimely demise in the first film was a key step in Eggsy's development, spurring him on to be the Galahad that Kingsman needed.  Bringing Colin Firth's character back just undercuts that sacrifice. For selfish reasons, audiences are happy to have Harry back. But that begs the question – why have him killed in the first place?

Which segues into the ridiculous technology and gadgetry.  The use of the plasma gel thingamajig to revive / resurrect not one, but two characters, is plain silly.  This infinity gauntlet-like device really makes death seem pointless.

It was a surprise (I hadn't seen any trailers) to see Channing Tatum pop up in his cowboy kit and drop some swagger.  But, the initial hoot eventually gives way to a kind of indifference towards the character.  Both Agents Tequila and Whiskey don't really resonate and seem to be put there solely to prop up their British counterparts.

While the fight scenes provide for some good viewing, the excessive whirling, twirling, gyroscopic camera shots tended to irritate at times. In this instance, less is probably more.

Eggsy's evolution from neighbourhood bloke to secret agent in Kingsman: The Secret Service meant that the class theme would not feature much in the sequel.  There is a wee bit of that, in the form of our young agent's royal dinner (which draws some laughs), but not enough. The concept of the gentrification of a cockney chav was part of the appeal of The Golden Circle‘s predecessor, and the limited exploration of that theme meant that we lost some of the essence of Kingsman.

So Kingsman: The Golden Circle offers us more thrills and spills, and is a bundle of laughs. One is suitably entertained throughout much of the flick (in no small part due to Sir John). But, on a critical analysis, it seems to have ultimately succumbed to Sequel Syndrome. Box office indications suggest that this film will be another commercial hit, and the hope is that part 3 will bring us back to the franchise's roots.

Verdict: B

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