Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Let's get the first question out of the way. Is Kingsman: The Golden Circle as good as Kingsman: Secret Service? Nope. But could it be? Unlikely. Secret Service's greatest strength wasn't the breakneck pacing, the near-perfect casting, Matthew Vaughn's flawless direction. Secret Service's greatest strength was surprise. Very few things in blockbuster cinema can top that "what the hell is this thing" reaction to first viewings of Secret Service. Is it a neo-conservative takedown of the environmentalism? Is it a pro-authoritarian examination of class structure in modern Britain? is it a wistful dream for the time of Pax Britannica? Is it a deconstruction of the modern action film in general and, more specifically, Bond? Is it a brightly coloured movie where things go boom? Is it all of these things? Is it some? Have my more pretentious leanings taken over? Am I about to start stoking my beard so I can discuss how the character of Eggsy represents Britain's struggles in the 21st century and how his mother's abusive boyfriend represents Britain pre-Brexit? Maybe. Probably not.
Anyway, let's get to the second question. Is The Golden Circle worth seeing? Yep. Right off the hop, it's the second movie in the last couple of months to feature both Channing Tatum and John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads. And Sir Elton John swears. A lot. Which can never be a bad thing. And if it is a bad thing, well, I don't want to be right. And now I'm blasting some Elton John. "Hold me closer, tiny dancer, count the headlights on the highway". Poetry. Just pure poetry. If I could write just one sentence that good…
Where were we? Is Golden Circle worth seeing? Yes, I'd say it is. The set pieces are stunning, jaw-dropping spectacles. The fight choreography is so good it will make John Woo rage in jealousy. The camera swoops and swirls and flips in ways that make the Bourne movies seem restrained but yet we never, ever lose our sense of place, we are never unsure of where the camera is in relation to the action, in relation to the characters on the screen. When a fight takes place in the back of a black cab the camera is right there in the back seat, making the restraints of the space even more claustrophobic. This fluid camera work, these unbroken takes, were strengths of Secret Service and they are used here to great effect in Golden Circle and, for the most part, rarely feel like pandering.
Matthew Vaughn is never a name listed among the great action directors which is a darn shame considering that besides the Kingsman series, he also has Kick Ass and the best of the films that have X-Men in the title on his CV. He rarely takes the easy way out, for the most part his most CGI heavy scenes take place under blue skies with bright sunlight or with natural light. Compare his giant set piece for the end of X-Men: First Class or the church scene in Secret Service to the climaxes of this summer's Spiderman Homecoming and Wonder Woman, both great films hampered by dimly lit CGI. He continues to make his life harder with Golden Circle with naturally lit scenes or a nighttime car chase lit by street lights and neon and passing headlights.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a far weirder film than Secret Service. Julianne Moore's villain is a drug kingpin by way of Martha Stewart with a quick stop at a kitsch decorating shop specializing in the fifties. All smiles and charm with a side order of sociopathy and a plan that involves both wiping out the Kingsmen and sabotaging the world's illicit drug supply because reasons. In classic Bond villain tradition, the villain's plan is completely insane and makes very little sense. It is also completely surreal. Surreal on a level not seen since whatever Auric Goldfinger was up to.
The Golden Circle is an altogether most bizarre and surreal film. Like Bond on acid, dancing by itself in a parking lot at seven in the evening. Or, as Craig West eloquently said, it's blockbuster by way of Wes Anderson, a twisted mash-up of modern Bond and Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The Golden Circle is easily the most twisted movie so far this year. Be it the planting of a tracking device or hallucinations of cartoon butterflies. The multiple Bond homages that are turned to eleven or Sir Elton John wearing his more outlandish costumes from the seventies and cussing up a storm. The electric lasso or Bruce Greenwood playing yet another American president, nearly everything in The Golden Circle is a little unhinged. This is the kind of movie where a secret American version of the Kingsmen disguised as a Kentucky whisky distillery is one of the more normal moments.
Golden Circle has some flaws. Colin Firth returns because reasons with an eyepatch. Charlie from the first film returns because reasons with a robotic arm. And with the return of two characters we saw killed in the first film any deaths in Golden Circle are suspect and cheapened. The pacing lags, there are some seriously butt numbing moments for an action film. Subplots concerning the romantic life of our hero feel more like plot contrivances than anything real. It is needlessly overlong. Chunks of the film could have been completely chopped out and Golden Circle would have been better for it. Where Secret Service was paced like a Formula One race with plotting tighter than the skin on a snare drum, The Golden Circle is more like me - unnecessarily flabby around the middle.
So, yeah. Kingsman: Golden Circle is worth your moneys, just know that it isn't going to be Kingsman Redux. It's still fun, but it has some flaws. And, now, I'm going to go back to turning up Sir Elton John. "Levon wears his war wound like a crown". Oh, come on, man. You're just showing off now.