Sharp Wit Makes Worthy Sequel in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle"
Issue   |   Tue, 09/26/2017 - 23:28
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Although this sequel’s marketing heavily featured a spoiler, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle“ successfully builds and elaborates upon the original’s popularity.

When “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was released in 2014, it proved, along with “Deadpool” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” that R-rated blockbusters still had a place in Hollywood. The original “Kingsman” was a delightful surprise, parodying the classic James Bond movies while still managing to be an incredibly entertaining movie on its own merits. Though “Golden Circle” may have lost some of the magic of the original, this sequel maintains the franchise’s characteristic ultra-violence, endearing characters and surprisingly heartwarming moments.

The film kicks off with a bang as the titular Golden Circle, an international drug cartel led by Julianne Moore’s Poppy, launches a devastating strike against the Kingsman agency, a British group of spies. In the wake of the attack, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) set off to get help from Kingsman’s American cousins, the Statesmen. We’re then treated to a rollicking adventure as the British and American super spies set out to bring an end to Poppy’s scheme.

The decision to introduce the Statesmen proves to be an absolutely inspired choice. Just as the first “Kingsman” explored the idea of the perceptions people have of the British as a nation of James Bonds, the Statesman embody the perception of Americans as a nation of John Waynes or Clint Eastwoods. Channing Tatum may only get a few minutes of screen time in this installment, but his Agent Tequila perfectly embodies the swagger and cowboy roughness of this archetype. Instead of Tatum, Pedro Pascal takes the place of our central Statesman character as the laser-lasso wielding Agent Whiskey, and it’s a treat to see him and Eggsy bounce off each other. Unfortunately, the other two Statesmen don’t fare nearly as well. It appears Halle Berry’s Ginger Ale left half of her character arc on the cutting room floor, while Jeff Bridge’s Champagne is the same cowboy you’ve seen him play a thousand times over.

If the Statesmen are a representation of America’s grit, justice and toughness, then Julianne Moore’s Poppy represents the darker side of America. Obsessed with the nostalgia of the 50’s, Poppy decorates her secret lair with malt-shops, barbershops and screenings of old movies, giving some of the final action sequences an almost surreal atmosphere. Moore clearly has a blast with the role, as Poppy possesses all the sweetness, can-do-attitude and consumerism you might expect from a Martha Stewart advert. Except she uses it to run a drug cartel.

As an action movie, “Golden Circle” does not disappoint. From the hectic car chase of the opening scene to the last bullet fired in Poppy’s lair, the action is creative, well shot and a blast to see in action.

Some readers may notice that I have neglected to mention another major plot point which the movie’s marketing has heavily emphasized. I will not talk about this plot point because, to me at least, it constitutes a major spoiler. Even director Matthew Vaughn has attacked the “stupidity” of this marketing decision and has vowed to take steps to ensure something like this never happens again under his watch.

I also have to give the movie credit for staying away from its predecessor’s successes. Just when you think you’re getting a redux of the bar fight from the first movie, Vaughn turns the tables on the audience. While there is a sequence of Eggsy mowing down goons in the same manner as Colin Firth’s infamous church scene from “Secret Service,” it manages to separate itself by adding a few twists to the mix. Finally, in a move I absolutely love, the final fight of the movie features a showdown between equally matched opponents rather than having a hero carve through a faceless CGI army. This is a trend that we have seen a lot in recent movies, and I hope it continues.

The first “Kingsman” proved that it could do character work just as well as its action sequences. The sequel gives its viewers much of the same. Egerton is once again an engaging and charming protagonist for us to follow. Strong absolutely steals the show on this one, taking center stage in the movie’s funniest scene as well as its most emotional one. Pedro Pascal’s performance makes me wish that the Western would get a comeback so we can see him drift into a lonesome mining town. Of course, the entire cast manages to be funny, serious or defiantly badass at a moment’s notice, just like the film itself.

However, perhaps due to the nature of the movie, “Golden Circle” has lost something that made the original special. Throughout the original, there was a definite meta-commentary on spies and spy movies that allowed for a careful examination of these tropes, celebrating or mocking them. “Golden Circle” has the perfect opportunity to take this same approach to Westerns, but the film never follows through. The only exception to this is a plot thread left over from one of the Bond parodies in “Secret Service.” Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), the woman Eggsy met at the end of the last movie, utterly defies the Bond Girl trope by actually showing up again for the sequel as a compelling love interest. Continuing their relationship was a smart move, providing much needed emotional beats throughout the film.

One of the most interesting aspects of “Secret Service” was its surprisingly strong message about classism, especially within the British aristocracy. “Golden Circle” continues this trend, focusing its attention on drug use. Unfortunately, the message is not as clear this time, often seeming contradictory. At one point, the film manages to attack both the War on Drugs and the legalization movement within five minutes. The movie attempts to play both sides of the aisle on this one but ultimately fails to deliver a coherent message.

While it may not be able to completely duplicate the success of “Secret Service,” “Golden Circle” still stands as an excellent sequel. It loses some of its predecessor’s charm and a bit of its brains, but the film hangs onto the dark comedy, wild action and sympathetic characters that have made the franchise a runaway hit.