Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
I had no idea what I was expecting when I sat down to watch the first Kingsman movie. My Literature Club in college had a tradition of going to the theater every semester to see a movie adaptation of a book, which usually isn’t too hard to find but this particular time around we couldn’t seem to come up with anything. One of the underclassmen mentioned that Kingsman looked interesting, and he was pretty sure it was based off a graphic novel series. The trailers received mixed reviews from our group, admittedly some of that probably comes from the cognitive dissonance of seeing Colin Firth doing martial arts and cracking skulls, but we all kind of just shrugged and said, “why not?” By the end of the film, I was sold. For me, it struck a strong balance of action and campy-ness, never taking itself too seriously while still staying within the realm of its reality. When the trailers first released for the second film I was pumped. I had intended to see it in theaters when it came out, but for whatever reason, that just never happened and so after waiting a few months it was finally out on DVD and it went right to the top of my watch pile as soon as I got a copy of it. I had very high expectations and was so excited to finally see it, and when the ending credits rolled I… thought it was okay.
From the very first scene, I could tell they were trying to put the action at 11 and it put a bad taste in my mouth. Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Eddie the Eagle and Sing!) now fully embodies the idea of a James Bond-esque man of mystery, complete with a slick ride that is just begging to be ambushed by an unknown group of assailants. The choreography of the fight is fluid, but I just didn’t feel like it held the same charm as similar scenes in the first film. As can be the problem with many sequels, I quickly felt that after the success of the first movie and the increased budget there was a pressure for everything to be flashier and utilize more effects. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s not that it was poorly done, simply lacking in the charm of the original movie.
It’s quickly revealed that the unknown assailants are being led by Charlie (Edward Holcroft, Vampire Academy), Eggsy’s rival from the Kingsman training program, who has received some notable upgrades in the form of a high-tech android arm. While Eggsy prevails and returns to the Kingsman headquarters unscathed, Charlie is still able to hack into the Kingsman database and forward the information to our film’s villain–Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore, Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Still Alice). Poppy is the wealthiest person you’ve never heard of, the ringleader of the international drug trafficking enterprise “The Golden Circle”, and she’s tired of it. She starts making her name known by destroying the Kingsman Headquarters, and quickly moves on to holding the world ransom. Eggsy is left with no resources and a world in crisis, his only remaining hint of salvation a bottle of Kentucky whiskey.
The movie barrels forward as one might expect, hints of the humor and style of the first film sprinkled throughout. While the entire ride is engaging and entertaining, in the end it never really pushes boundaries or attempts to subvert expectations in the ways that made me love the first film. At least, not until the final climactic showdown. The final half hour or so of the film is solid, reminding me of everything I enjoyed about the beginning of the series without simply retreading tried and true punch lines. Elton John alone is worth watching this film for, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a celebrity have so much fun playing themselves in a movie. At the end though, it suffers the same fate as many sequels–focusing so much on trying to be better than the original it suffocates what made the series successful to begin with: The charm and disregard for what an espionage adventure is supposed to be, well tempered by moments of drama that moves the plot forward in a productive and satisfying way. Many of the jokes in Kingsman: The Golden Circle rely too heavily on references to the original film, and when something tragic happens it doesn’t always feel like it’s accomplishing anything more than pulling at the audience’s heartstring.
When the inevitable Kingsman 3 releases I’ll be excited to see it, I might even succeed in seeing it in theaters. I don’t know if it will be able to quite recapture the feeling I got watching the original, but that’s okay. As with The Golden Circle, I trust that it will entertain me, it will make me laugh and at moments may even surprise me. Some films are simply meant to be enjoyed.
Many sequels are just a sequel. If you enjoyed the first movie and want something that’s fun and easy to kick back to, you should pick up The Golden Circle. Here’s hoping the third film takes the initiative to redefine the box again.