Warning: this review contains mild spoilers for Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
What is ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’?
Kingsman: The Secret Service introduced a new kind of spy to cinema audiences in Taron Egerton’s Eggsy. Inspired by the Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic-book series, the first film set up a franchise showcasing Eggsy’s initiation into the world of Kingsman, a covert UK-based spy operation. It segued into his first adventure under the wing of Colin Firth’s upper-class agent Harry Hart, also known by the codename Galahad.
The Golden Circle is the follow-up. Harry was seemingly killed off after being shot in the head, and Eggsy has been trying to adjust to spy life without his mentor. And doing a pretty good job, as it happens. The film’s opening sequence shows him thwarting a bad guy with a cybernetic arm in a chase across London in a black cab. But dangerous though this guy is, he’s just the thin end of the wedge.
When Kingsman HQ is destroyed and a series of explosions up and down the country all but decimate the agency, a sister organisation comes to light. Known as Statesman, the Kentucky-based agency masquerading as a whiskey distillery joins forces with its UK tailor-house fronted cousins to fight their common enemy. Namely, Julianne Moore’s drug-peddling Poppy who is intent on holding the world hostage. But their pairing is nowhere near as smooth as the whiskey or clothes either purveys…
It Gets Better the Less You Care
The good thing about Kingsman: The Golden Circle is that it (mostly) gets better as the film goes on. The narrative wears you down with its relentless nonsense, absurdity and crudeness, to the point where you stop caring about making sense of it all. But rather than wind up hating the film, you surrender to its sense of fun. To a degree, at least, anyway.
Once the frenetic cold open involving a London cab subsides, the film attempts to re-establish Eggsy. As he converses with his friends, who include Thomas Turgoose as Liam, the script trips itself up. The conversation here just doesn’t ring true and it really needs to in order for us to reconnect with Eggsy and his working-class roots. You end up cringing at the exchange. Which is never good.
On top of that, Taron Egerton’s urban dialect that he’s at pains to uphold throughout the film slips multiple times. Depending on your acceptance threshold for this sort of thing, it ranges from slightly bothersome to incredibly grating. He’s not the only one — Mark Strong is guilty of letting Merlin‘s Scottish accent slip too at times.
Anyway, these early scenes are among the film’s least successful, and provide an early warning that the rest of the film will be packed with jokes that won’t land. Some will, however, and fortunately the film does indeed improve as more characters (and high-calibre actors) are introduced, things get zanier, and the plot makes less sense. Or as you resign yourself to caring less about its failings, as we said. It’s also got some pacey, innovative and way-out action set pieces with some pretty gruesome death sequences thrown in for good measure.
Pushing the Boundaries of Taste
Some of the film’s leanings and inclusions are distinctly questionable. Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman seem intent on pushing the boundaries of taste. Sure, there are crude schoolboy jokes here and there but the Glastonbury-set sequence which involves the forced insertion of a tracking device into a certain part of one female’s anatomy is treading on dangerous ground. Vaughn tries to dial it back with the recipient of said device turning seductress, but the intention — and set-up — is already out there.
What follows is a sequence lifted from Judd Apatow’s copybook that shows you more than you thought you’d ever see. It comes immediately after a distasteful and gratuitous tracking shot that will make you audibly groan.
Elton John Wins Out
Kingsman‘s greatest strength is its cast. Egerton mostly turns it on as Kingsman’s youngest recruit, but what he lacks in charm is more than made up for by the ever-engaging Colin Firth. Firth channels Dougie from Twin Peaks as the amnesiac Harry who’s very much alive, even if he’s not quite kicking, preferring instead to obsess over butterflies rather than fight bad guys.
Mark Strong, too, is very likeable, even stirring the emotions in a scene which sees him perform a heroic deed. And it’s safe to say it comes as a surprise to feel yourself tearing up in such a silly film.
Additions to the cast for this sequel include Jeff Bridges, who brings a depth to his relatively small role heading up US counterpart Statesman that will leave you wanting to know more about his character’s origins. Watch closely to appreciate the subtle comedy genius Bridges imparts.
The masterful Julianne Moore, meanwhile, relishes every moment she’s on screen as the charismatic, unhinged villain of the piece. And though her motives may be fuzzy, in a film like this it doesn’t really matter. And is even kind of the point.
While Halle Berry is given little to do as the dull US equivalent to Mark Strong’s Merlin, Channing Tatum — aka Statesman’s Agent Tequila — is forced to spend most of the movie comatose dressed only in grey underwear. When he’s not dancing in blue Lycra, that is. Though he may not figure much, the film sets up an expanded role in Kingsman 3.
The film’s runaway highlight, however, is Elton John, in a role we don’t want to spoil for you. Suffice to say from the moment he’s introduced he steals every scene he’s in. There’s the diva-style stroppy backchat; there are his priceless expressions. And then there are his surprising fight skills including a ninja kick and a wonderful fourth-wall breaking moment. He even pacifies mechanical dogs with hilarious results. And it goes without saying that we get to see singing and costumes, right?
With a 141-minute running time, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is definitely bloated. It takes far too long to get where it’s going. But Vaughn doesn’t care — and neither does his cast. They’re all having way too much fun skylarking around to hurry to the end.
Is ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ Any Good?
At heart, this spy spoof is a class comedy meets culture-clash espionage caper that relies on stereotypes for its laughs. The film descends into a farcical romp that has more in common with Austin Powers than director Matthew Vaughn would probably want to admit. A clutch of dubious moments plus some misjudged jokes and an over-stuffed feel will leave you feeling slightly beaten down.
Its sense of fun and irreverence rescue it, however, along with fresh and frenetic action. With action scenes set to great music and effective, sparing use of slo-mo, even the harshest critic of action will fall in. There’s that cast, too, all of whom are never less than exhilaratingly watchable.