When Kingsman: The Secret Service was released in 2015, I remember it being one of those films where I was really on board with it, had a lot of fun, but the last scene of the film rubbed me the wrong way and left a bit of a bitter taste afterwards. The fun I had with Kingsman up until that point though made me hopeful for a sequel, one that would fix that problem. However, my anticipation for this film was dampened a bit when it was revealed in the first trailer that Colin Firth would be returning as Harry Hart, mainly because I was worried that it would undo the character development for Eggsy from the first film, although anticipation grew the more I saw of the Statesmen, and the potential they could bring to the film. Unfortunately though, whilst this is still a fun film, it is a serious disappointment,
The film takes place a year since the events of the first film, with Eggsy being a full agent of Kingsman, living with his girlfriend, Princess Tilde of Sweden (who he saved at the end of the first film, and whose inclusion feels like a means to recover from the backlash over the final scene). After Eggsy gets attacked by Charlie Heskith, a former Kingsman trainee, information is gained which allows Charlie’s boss Poppy Adams, leader of the drug cartel The Golden Circle, to destroy all of Kingsman’s services, leaving only Eggsy and Merlin alive. As a result, Eggsy and Merlin have to go to their American counterparts, Statesman, which is based on the iconography of cowboys in the same way that Kingsman is based on the iconography of classic Bond, with the two organisations teaming up to find Poppy, who is holding the world to ransom after poisoning every illegal drug supply, with matters being complicated with the reveal that Statesman have sheltered Harry Hart, who survived being shot in the first film, and who lost his memories. Now there is a lot of plot in the film, which unsurprisingly results in the film being 2 and a half hours long, but even though there is a lot of plot, many elements introduced in the film are not given the attention they deserve. Even though they were given prominent placement in the marketing, Channing Tatum as Statesman agent Tequila and Jeff Bridges as Statesman head Champ are only on screen for around 5 minutes, Tatum only getting a brief action scene before he’s literally put on ice and Bridges spending his short scenes behind a desk. Everything that we see of the Statesmen in this film feels like it was only introduced so it could be expanded upon in a sequel, suffering very much from the typical issues of the middle film in a trilogy. It’s not only the elements introduced in this film that aren’t given enough attention, it’s elements from the first film, mainly with Roxy. I found the friendship between Eggsy and Roxy to be one of the more endearing parts of the first film and I wanted to see this expanded upon. However, after two scenes, Roxy gets fridged and all of the potential that is set up for the character is gone. All of this comes back to one element though: Harry Hart should have stayed dead. All of these issues come from bringing Hart back and the screen time needed to set everything up with him again. If he wasn’t in the film, and was replaced in all of the action scenes with Roxy, then we’d probably have a stronger film.
There are some parts of the film that work though, some of which I’ll get into later, with a lot of what works being related to Poppy. There’s sharper satire in this film than there was in the first film with the way the film approaches the drug debate as Poppy’s plan is for the legalisation of drugs. There are interesting elements introduced about how some harmful drugs are legal but others are illegal and the perception that all drug users are irredeemable criminals, with this creating a flaw in Poppy’s plan that she didn’t see in relation to the US President (with some parts feeling like a satire of Donald Trump). There are also some great little digs at CEO culture with how Poppy’s actions aren’t that different from other CEOs, with this getting some good laughs when it’s brought up.
However, there is an elephant in the room which really soured my opinion of the film. There’s a scene set at Glastonbury where Eggsy has to seduce a target to plant a tracker on her which is one of the most sexist things I’ve seen in a film this year. Everything from how the scene is framed to the whole set-up for it to the gadget used is just so wrong headed in every conceivable way. All the worst elements of Matthew Vaughn’s films and what he absorbed from working with Guy Ritchie are in this scene and the film would have been so much better if this scene was cut out, it’s just a disgusting scene and I’m taking off a full star rating just for that scene.
The cast though is game for everything in the film. Taron Egerton is still as charismatic as he was in the first film and is a born star. His character arc isn’t as strong here as it was in the first film but he still gets some great moments to shine. Colin Firth also does great work as Harry, having some more comedic moments in the film than he did in the first film due to the amnesia the character is suffering from, along with having some great moments when he gets his memories back due to his altered depth perception, with the scenes Firth shares with Egerton being a great bit of fun. Julianne Moore meanwhile is great fun as Poppy, having this sweet air to her that makes her all the more sinister. Her performance isn’t quite as memorable as Samuel L Jackson in the first film but she’s still a great villain. Mark Strong as Merlin meanwhile gets some great comedic moments alongside being a straightman for Egerton and Firth, although interesting elements for his character introduced near the end of the film are pretty much wasted. For the Statesmen, whilst Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are wasted, they are perfectly cast for modern day cowboys, Tatum in particular seeming to have been born to play a cowboy. Halle Berry meanwhile is pretty good as tech support Ginger but again her character isn’t given much to do and is more set-up for a sequel, the same being true for cameos from Bruce Greenwood and Emily Watson who at least get more to do than Sophie Cookson and Michael Gambon. The only Statesman agent that is given development is Pedro Pascal as Whiskey. Like Tatum he does a great job at embodying the modern day cowboy, and does great work in the action scenes along with having some good moments of character near the end, although the most problematic elements of the film are because of his character. Finally, there’s a supporting role for Elton John playing himself and he steals the film every time he’s on screen, playing a foul mouthed, action oriented version of himself and the image of Elton John in an intense action scene is just inspired.
The technical elements of the film are as strong as is expected from a Matthew Vaughn film. Whilst none of the action scenes come close to equalling the brilliance of the church scene from the first film, we still get some really well executed action scenes, again having great editing work to create the appearance of long takes, even though the CG is a bit off in these scenes, whilst the cowboy gadgets of the Statesmen bring in some brilliant possibilities in the action scenes, especially when lassos are introduced. The music meanwhile does a good job at building the tone of the film, although the main reason I’m talking about it is because this if the FIFTH film this year to use the music of John Denver after Free Fire, Alien: Covenant, Okja and Logan Lucky, seriously why has there been a resurgence in John Denver. The production design deserves special praise, Poppy’s lair being of note as the ultimate embodiment of American colonialism as a recreation of a 70’s version of the 50’s in the middle of the Cambodian rainforest.
Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is just a crushing disappointment. Sure it’s still fun and the cast are all game, but so many elements of the film that could have made for interesting story possibilities are sidelined so they can gain more attention in a third film whilst also making it so this film is way too long with the Glastonbury scene itself being one of the most spectacularly wrongheaded scenes in any film this year. As much as I’ve enjoyed the films of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman in the past, this is a low point in their careers.
My Rating: 2.5/5