I’ve had too much time to think about Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The 007 pastiche was such a welcome and subversive entry into mainstream cinema schedules, much like Kick-Ass during the onset of the Super Hero era of blockbuster even films. You could argue that the first Kingsman movie was more of a Bond movie than Skyfall, with its preposterous plot, elaborate villains and the sexism straight from the 70s.
As expected, The Golden Circle mirrors its predecessor and whilst it was overlong, albeit kinetic and nicely paced, The Golden Circle doesn’t really go the John Wick 2 route and ramp everything up to 11. It seems like a tame, watered-down imitation – which, to be fair, is the route of most sequels. As a caveat, happiness, as always, is a function of expectations and I expect a tonne from Matthew Vaughn, who returns to oversee this world of slick bespoke suits. I was amused by The Golden Circle. I laughed a little. But I never felt like my head was spinning or on the verge of exploding from glee. That cinematic high from Vaughn’s brutal violence was missing. Instead, it felt like he spent a little too much time trying to get under the skin of the peeps annoyed by the Kingsman: Secret Service.
Most of all, The Golden Circle was probably missing some character. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) of course returns well ingrained in the Kingsman ethos of lethal chivalry. It was an endearing journey to this point, watching Harry (Colin Firth) mentor the young ruffian into humanity’s last hope, with some compelling platitudes along the way. The play on class was a welcome layer but over here, Eggsy remains the man we left in the first film. In classic Bond fashion, the film opens with an action sequence that runs from the Kingsman headquarters through the streets of London and Eggsy is in fine impossible-white-man form, as he battles a bionic-armed returnee from the first film.
He’s also seemingly been whipped by the Swedish Princess he hooked up with in unfortunate and bizarre fashion in the first film. Marriage may be on the cards as Eggsy has to impress royalty and he does his best. All this ends up on the back burner when the baddie, ’50s aficionado Poppy Adams, shows her hand. She is the leader of a narcotics Empire called The Golden Circle, which quickly ruffles some Kingsman suits, moving the pieces on the board till we find ourselves in a Tennessee whiskey cellar staring into the barrel of a tobacco chewing Channing Tatum’s shotgun.
Tatum, as Tequila, is our first introduction to the American posse of this film and Vaughn’s (and writer Jane Goldman) play on the stereotypes. The Kingsman’s equivalent in the US is the Statesman, in all its cowboy splendour and alcohol predilections. The Statesman crew have codenames based on alcoholic beverages. There’s Halle Barry’s Ginger Ale, the crew’s quartermaster. Pedro Pascal is Whiskey and of course, they had to draft in Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn who travelled forward in time, got an eye transplant to head the Statesman. He goes by Champagne. Speaking of missing eyes, Harry shows up, with amnesia, after being shot in the head in the first Kingsman and being clearly dead. Thank God for contrivances. Mind you, I’m not mad. Liam Neeson just retired from action films so there is a spot open for another old man badass.
The Golden Circle doesn’t come close that manic church sequence in damn near the peak of all time cinematic ultraviolence. But there is some manic intensity underpinning the action set-pieces fuelled by revving electric guitars on the score as Vaughn (aided by some CGI to stretch out the takes) swirls in and around the energetic fight sequences. Shout outs to the laser lasso action from Whiskey though. It totally put Wonder Woman to shame and I truly hope Patty Jenkins was taking some notes for her sequel.
The remaining components of this film range from meh to plain limp. The drop-off in the antagonist department of the film is glaring. Sam L. Jackson in psychopath hipster mode was a joy to watch but Julian Moore, bless her soul, probably filmed all her scenes in one day. Poppy has this aloof cadence making it look like she is getting high on her own product. She is surrounded by classically camp elements; a lair in a lost Cambodian city given a ’50 aesthetic, vicious bionic Dobermans and a giant mincer which tastes some human flesh. What does Poppy want? Just some recognition as a business mogul and she holds the world ransom with a poison deadly and bizarre in equal measure. At least Vaughn is able to pivot of her motivations to provide a satirical edge in Bruce Greenwood’s US Head of State, who is surely a mock-up of G.W. Bush.
There is the temptation to liken Vaughn to Michael Bay here because of his coarse steps when it comes to the sexual beats. It had me thinking of Pain and Gain and its lust for borderline necrophilia. But whereas some like to argue Bay’s misogyny is in his nature, you come away from The Golden Circle thinking Vaughn was just looking to offend people. And it worked. The outrage junkies got their high. Personally, it didn’t compare to the bizarre finale of the first film, where a character we barely know offers anal sex as a reward for saving the world. I guess this is the price we pay for endorsing 50 years of James Bond using girls as playthings.
A third film in the series is expected, hopefully, headlined by Tatum and Egerton. In the brief time we spend with Tatum’s Tequila, we learn he’s a bit of a rough diamond, much like Eggsy and the film could return to the original schematic with a buddy flick woven in. I reckon Vaughn will be up to it. No matter the highs or lows of this film, we never doubt our director finished filming every scene with some bubbling satisfaction within.