Kingsman: The Golden Circle Reprises the Fun and the Absurdity
Picture Sir Elton John, clad in a feathered 1950s ensemble, leaping in the air and axe-kicking goons in slo-mo. That’s exactly the kind of tomfoolery you get in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the over-the-top sequel to 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. And this time around, our well-dressed superspies are headed to the United States.
A year after the events of the first movie, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has grown into the shoes of Kingsman’s lead spy position, Galahad. But lurking in the jungles of Cambodia is Poppy (Julianne Moore), a sociopathic drug kingpin (queenpin?) who wouldn’t once bat her mascara-coated eyelashes at the prospect of worldwide genocide. Out of resources and out of options, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) seek the help of Kingsman's American counterpart: Statesman, a spy organization with a whiskey-brewing front. With millions of lives at stake, the boys need all the help they can get.
It’s a wild ride from start to finish, but The Golden Circle won't likely push you to the edge of your seat. The first thing you’ll notice is the film’s cavalier treatment of character deaths that would have otherwise enriched the plot. Harry Hart (Colin Firth)—the original Galahad who died in the first movie—makes a comeback, which is no surprise seeing as he’s on the film’s promotional posters. Now one-eyed and butterfly-obsessed, Hart is the only character whose emotional development hasn’t completely plateaued. It’s a joy to see Firth, who’s pushing sixty at this point, handle an action role as well as he does. Even in his jarred, amnesiac state, you never root for him out of pity, because you're perfectly confident that he’s capable of beating the bad guys.
Plot-wise, the movie jumps from one scene to another with reckless disregard for continuity or logic. But the film is a visual feast if you've ever seen one, and is, despite its clumsy narrative, still a unique cinematic experience. Fight scenes are impeccably choreographed, even when they teeter on the line of physically impossible. Gore is kept to a deliberate minimum to keep audiences thrilled instead of disgusted, even in scenes involving a meat grinder. It’s everything you expect from a sequel that seeks to impress: it’s bigger, it’s crazier, it’s more ambitious. But despite its bombastic, VFX-heavy action scenes, The Golden Circle is neither as smart nor as satirical as it seems to think it is.
The Kingsman franchise is a vigorous nod to James Bond. That much is evident in the way the film treats its women. Ginger Ale, played by the ageless and ever-magnetic Halle Berry, is criminally underused, as is Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström)—yes, the princess who rewards Eggsy with anal sex at the end of the first movie—whose casting credit may as well have been “Plot Device.” Clearly, it’s a boys-only affair that could have seen more from its characters the way the first movie did with Roxy (Sophie Cookson), the female Lancelot. Likewise, Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila (Channing Tatum) are entertaining, but they’re gratuitous casting choices at best.
The most stunning performance comes from Moore, whose sickly-sweet sociopathy is satisfying to watch, as well as Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), whose stunning fight scenes take center stage as Hart struggles to get his spy-bearings back. Egerton is as charismatic as ever, anchoring the film with the tenacity of a rookie hero. Strong eagerly reprises his role as Merlin, guiding both Galahads toward victory in turns heartwarming and goosebump-inducing.
The film also makes interesting references to both mortality and morality, specifically in the context of a war on drugs. Filipinos will definitely find some strong real-life parallels (at some points, it feels like the film is speaking directly to us). The main antagonist tries to strike a deal with the US President to legitimize her drug trade, but the leader of the free world has the wrong kind of justice on his mind. We'll leave the rest for you to see for yourself, but sufficed to say that this fictional President spouts populist, band-aid-solution rhetoric that will have you believe Kingsman’s writers were checking in on Philippine current events. If anything, you’re going to leave the movie theater wondering if it’s life that imitates art, or the other way around.
With comedy that often panders to the audience and fight choreography that defies the laws of physics, spy-movie purists might find this sequel a bit tough to swallow. But if you liked the first film, there’s no reason you won’t like this one. Truthfully, The Golden Circle is an incredibly enjoyable movie. Just try not to think too much through its 141-minute runtime.