By Karen Gordon
I wasn’t expecting a comedy when I went to see Kingsman: The Circle of Gold but a comedy is what I got.
And that didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing. I didn’t much like the first Kingsman: The Secret Service. It was well-made, looked good, and it had a great cast (Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong). But I found it too often thoughtless and tasteless, which undermined any joy in the carefully choreographed action scenes.
If you haven’t seen the first film, this one does drop in older scenes to give you a sense of what you might need to know, but I feel that I should bring you up to speed.
The first Kingsman movie introduced us to a young lad probably headed down the wrong road named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, played by Taron Egerton. For various reasons related to obligation to a fallen comrade and concern for his well-being, Harry Hart (Firth) recruited young Eggsy into the Kingsman, “an independent, international intelligence agency operating at the highest level of discretion, whose ultimate goal is to keep the world safe.” In other words, guys who act like spies but are not affiliated with the government.
Even better, their front was a Saville Row clothier, which made them a dapper team. By the end of the first film (spoiler alert), Eggsy had risen to the challenge, but lost Harry, his now-surrogate father after a long, twirly fight sequence with Sam L. in a church.
Which brings us to The Golden Circle. Eggsy is now a full-on gentleman in his fabulous suits, with a beautiful Swedish girlfriend, who happens to be royalty. After the obligatory opening action sequence where he fights off a former colleague-turned-foe Charlie (Edward Holcroft), who is outfitted with what can only be called an electronic smart arm, Eggsy demonstrates his commitment to her by crawling through a sewer to keep an appointment. But things can’t stay sane forever, can they? The smart arm hacks into the Kingsman’s system and that gives the bad guy the ability to destroy the Kingsman’s various and until-now-secret locations. Surviving members Eggsy and tech specialist Merlin (Strong) are left to stand in the smouldering wreckage of their office and wonder what to do.
The Kingsman have a secret hidden away with one very bizarre clue. It leads them to Kentucky where they discover that they’re about to share the future movie franchise with Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and a strangely de-glamourized Halle Berry. As it happens, they are part of a parallel organization founded at the same time as Kingsman, called Statesman. The whiskey business is their front, and their code names are, charmingly, Agent Champagne (Bridges), Agent Tequila (Tatum), Agent Ginger Ale (Berry) and a drawling, cowboy-hatted dude named Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, a.k.a. Oberyn on Game of Thrones and Javier on Narcos).
The bad guy here is the psychopathic Poppy, played by Julianne Moore. The most successful drug lord in the world, she’s been forced to operate her business from a remote jungle location surrounded by land mines and equipped with twin murderous robot dogs (she’s a big investor in murderous tech) where she’s set up what can best be described as an adult Barbie village to make her feel like she’s home. She misses home. So, she creates a deadly crisis to negotiate her way back to her beloved country.
Now the Kingsman and their new compatriots have their target and the action sequences begin in earnest.
The movie has a delightful cast that also includes Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson, and Sir Elton John. And although it starts like a normal action-spy movie with slightly irreverent dialogue, the movie picks up comedic steam as it motors along.
Like its predecessor, the sequel is directed by Matthew Vaughn, and once again co-written by Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman. The duo knows how to frame a story that works and write in lots of action to keep us awake. Vaughn has proven himself to be a deft hand at directing long, brightly lit, well-choreographed fight sequences that are all of a certain style and they certainly work here.
My quibble with the duo is one of taste. Comedy, perhaps more than any other genre, is all personal. And their scripts verge into tastelessness. I also find something slightly mean-spirited about some of their choices. For instance, one involving Poppy’s preferred punishment for those who betray her is unnecessarily stomach-turning. I also wonder why they’ve taken such pains to downplay Berry’s beauty. It seems a bit unnecessary given that none of the other characters have this kind of restriction. But again, my taste.
However, if you can shove that aside, and if you’re not looking for any subtext or anything of lasting value, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a crazy popcorn-movie ride. And there’s something to be said for just shutting your mind off and enjoying the fun.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Starring Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry. Opens wide September 22.