When a second Kingsman movie was announced, Internet reaction was understandably divided. While dynamic fight scenes and solid performances from all the cast made the first film more than adequately entertaining, it didn’t really serve that fresh or unique of a spin to the already overstuffed genre of spy and action movies. However, it did leave a generous opening for more installments, especially once street-ruffian-turned-gentleman-spy Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) was officially inducted into the ranks of the Kingsmen.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle picks up a year after The Secret Service left off. I’ll just jump right into it — the plot is absolutely nothing new. As far as the Big Bad Threat goes, It’s pretty much just Julianne Moore swapped out for Samuel L. Jackson. No shade to Ms. Moore at all, but while it’s clear she had fun with the role of Poppy Adams — a smiling, ‘50s-obsessed psychopath with the wardrobe of a Stepford Wife — the plain truth is, Jackson’s gaudy Valentine was a much more entertaining villain to watch.
A major talking point for The Golden Circle was the array of A-listers added to the slate: Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, and, most notably, Channing Tatum. While every single one of these big names do get their five minutes in the spotlight, it’s a rather disappointing five minutes for each actor. Bridges does nothing but swagger around smirking and milking his Southern drawl for all it’s worth. Pascal’s character, Whiskey, was marginally more interesting but ultimately thinly written, and Berry really wasn’t given much to do as Agent Ginger Ale besides looking helplessly concerned for everyone and everything. After a relatively meaty entrance and a couple of expository scenes, Tatum’s character, Tequila, was quite literally iced out. It just doesn’t make sense why director Matthew Vaughn would rope all these veterans on board only to have them stand around doing next to nothing.
It’s arguably the franchise’s worst-kept secret that Harry (Colin Firth) is, in fact, alive. However, even his return was overshadowed by the underwhelming threat of Poppy Adams’s nefarious give-me-what-I-want-or-I-kill-everyone plan. What with the fresh destruction of the Kingsman agency (as previewed in the trailers), there was so much scope for real material in the revived father-son connection between Harry and Eggsy, or the brotherly kinship between Harry and Merlin. Unfortunately, while Firth attempts to infuse some sincerity into Harry’s struggle with snapping back to reality, the film glosses everything over with flowery visuals and skimpy dialogue.
The not-so-surprise MVP of the film was, yet again, Mark Strong. Having proved himself as one of the strongest performers (if not the strongest) of the first film, it was a welcome relief to have his unrelentingly straightforward Merlin back in full force for The Golden Circle. Once the Kingsman agency is destroyed, he becomes Eggsy’s sole partner, a role he steps into readily, being far more prepared and experienced than Eggsy. Consider it one of the most baffling aspects of the film that once the Kingsmen are introduced to their American counterparts, the Statesmen, Merlin is reduced to nothing more than observer/commentator. Still, the best performance of the entire movie goes to Strong, even if it’s just for the brief but dramatic twist in the last thirty minutes of the movie.
One welcome surprise was Edward Holcroft’s return as disgraced former Kingsman recruit Charlie Hesketh, now aligned with Poppy and building some seriously strong potential as a villain. However, it was a pity to watch him get sidelined throughout the entire movie in favour of completely random henchmen characters, only employed for a couple of rambunctious but ultimately dissatisfying skirmishes with his former rival Eggsy. It would have been far more interesting to delve into Charlie’s motivations, but for some inexplicable reason, writers Vaughn and Jane Goldman chose to have him sulk around and act like a playground bully who’s been told it’s not good form to shove the other kids in the sandbox.
All of these criticisms, and we haven’t even gotten to the way female characters are terribly mistreated and written. Returning fan favourite Roxy, now Agent Lancelot, barely appeared onscreen. Swedish princess Tilde, also introduced in the first film, was given a completely superficial side-plot as Eggsy’s girlfriend. New character Clara was written in as nothing more than sexual fodder, there to fuel the animosity between Eggsy and Charlie. Aside from Ginger Ale, not one female character had their own agency (and even Ginger Ale’s was only addressed and resolved within what was probably one total minute of screentime).
Overall, Vaughn relies far too much on dynamic cinematography, colorful visuals and fancy props (whips! Metal arms! Lasers!) to make his movie for him, resulting in a brighter, shinier, and yet somehow miles duller product than the first Kingsman film. Seriously, so many props. There’s a delightful cameo from a certain pop icon that quickly turns out to be more of a full-fledged role than just a fun appearance. In fact, one of the absolute best moments in the entire film belongs to this singer. (Although I’m afraid that says much more about the overall quality of the film than this person’s star power and/or abilities.)
Unfortunately, sparks and fireworks aside, the newest offering in the Kingsman universe fails to surpass or even maintain the already mediocre bar set by its predecessor.
Author: Melissa L. S.
Editor: Han Angus