Kingsman: The Secret Service was a serviceable action-spy movie, known for its unabashed ultraviolence and an anal sex joke that some took as vilely misogynistic. The problem is, I don’t think the film is as smartly satirical as it thinks it is. Rather than taking on some of the tropes that have run rampant through the James Bond or Mission: Impossible series, the 2014 comic book adaptation embraced them and turned them up to 11. Die Another Day-levels of spy absurdity, handled with steady direction and a comedic tone that mostly works, it was a mixed bag to say the least. Colin Firth as agent Galahad was a bright spot, as well as the brutal church rampage scene set to the tune of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. The sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle—which announces pretty loudly that this franchise is only getting started, is sadly more of the same.
If you enjoyed the manic camera of director Matthew Vaughn, you’re in for a treat. There’s plenty of camera unchained in the action beats, the problem is no action sequence in the sequel tops the all-timer church sequence in the first. There’s energy there, but there’s nothing worthwhile. Colin Firth returns, offering a surprisingly compelling performance as the back-from-the-dead Galahad, but the problem is, while his character gets a prober arc, there’s a handful of characters in the film that end up getting short-changed. Fellow Kingsman agent Roxy, who seemingly was set up in the first movie as a capable female action colleague for our lead, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), really—and I mean really—does not get her fair due. Mark Strong, who plays the Q-esque analyst Merlin, gets limited screen time and, again, leaves you wondering how co-writer Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman managed to squander so much potential. Pull Firth’s Galahad and Strong’s Merlin and place them in a spy movie with a less convoluted plot with focus on character and you’d have one of the greatest films of all time—yes, I’m being hyperbolic, but it does break my heart how misused they are.
New characters in the Kingsman-verse include Julianne Moore as the film’s villain— Poppy Adams, a drug kingpin who holds the world ransom after poisoning all of her drugs. Like Samuel L. Jackson’s villain in the first, her character has plenty of quirks and chews the scenery; it works, mostly because Moore perfect and if you ever wanted to see her play a Bond-level supervillain, well then here you go. In order to stop Poppy, the Kingsman team up with the Statesmen, their spy organization, American equivalent. Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges appear in glorified cameos, only there to really hype up a possible Statesmen-centric sequel/spin-off. Halle Berry plays an analyst who's desperate to become a full-fledged agent, which is ironic because she never becomes a full-fledged character. Statesmen agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) features heavily and is the most-developed new player in the bunch, but that’s not saying much.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle tackles the drug war and paints its President of the United States as corrupt, all in an attempt at relevancy. It’s laughable, especially when the film uses Fox News as the dead-serious exposition delivery device. Any attempt at satire that was there in the first movie is completely gone in The Golden Circle. For better and worse, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a standard action-spy blockbuster. It’s mostly entertaining, but frankly, if you’re expecting anything smarter than Elton John crushing a robot dog’s head in with a bowling ball, you’re looking in the wrong place.
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