*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
Back in 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service arrived in theaters and shocked everyone with its daring sense of fun and satire, delighting with wonderfully shot fight scenes and a clever take on the spy film genre. After such a wonderful reception, it came as no surprise to anyone that Matthew Vaughn decided to follow it up with a sequel: Kingsman: The Golden Circle. With the same director and multiple fan-favorite characters returning, the question on every fan’s mind was “will the sequel live up to the original?” It was a tall order to fill and though everyone hoped for the best, most people (including me) went to the theater expecting the worst. After all, so many sequels fall short of their originals, especially when the originals are fantastic, so what were the odds that The Golden Circle would break that trend? What happened in those theaters was surprising; The Golden Circle was not as clever as The Secret Service, though they tried. Their fight scenes were not as inventive, though they tried. They ran into some speed bumps with their characters, though they did their best to make sure they were of the same high caliber as the original characters were. But despite the slight problems, Kingsman: The Golden Circle was still fun, just as if not more-so than the original film. It didn’t matter that the satire wasn’t as well written or that the story had a few more holes – for almost two and a half hours (which it definitely didn’t feel like), you could sit through the antics of the British spies and their American counterparts and laugh, enjoying the crazy schemes of the spy film world. Was The Golden Circle perfect? Certainly not. But it was fun, and sometimes just being fun is just fine.
After stopping Valentine’s evil plot, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is enjoying life as a full-time Kingsman agent, working under Merlin (Mark Strong) on spy cases before going home to his girlfriend, Princess Tilde (Hana Alström). It all comes crashing down when the new villain on the block, Poppy (Julianne Moore), sets out to remove any obstacles in her way by blowing up the Kingsman headquarters and killing most of the agents. Eggsy and Merlin survive and seek help from members of Statesmen, their American counterparts, only to discover that Eggsy’s mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) was saved by their agents and could come back to the job (with a little memory tinkering). As Poppy moves her evil plan into action, Eggsy tries to bring back Harry’s memories and works alongside Statesman agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) to save the world once more.
While there are quite a few callbacks to the original film (like some quick-witted wordplay throwing back to Tilde’s promise to Eggsy if he saves the world), this film is not quite as clever as the original set out to be. It feels as though everyone involved felt like they could relax a little bit after their huge hit, and making the movie smart wasn’t nearly as important as making sure everyone enjoyed themselves. That means there are not nearly as many subtle references to poke fun at the spy movie genre, whether it be to racial subtext or clichés rampant throughout the stories. There may be a bit of oversight where the girls are concerned – this movie awkwardly tries to thwart the objectification by turning Tilde from the first film’s sex object into the second film’s serious character, but its questionable “tracker planting scene”, as well as Roxxy’s (Sophie Cookson) involvement, makes the attempt to subvert the genre feel a little halfhearted. After all of the public lashings those scenes have been getting, Vaughn may want to think about finding a better balance between fun and clever if another Kingsman film happens, because right now the fun is being overlooked for a few tasteless moments. Instead, Vaughn and the writers went back to what they know we all liked about the first film – clever fight scenes. Sadly, none quite measure up to the absolute blow-out in the Kentucky church, but they are still more fun to watch than most fight scenes that grace cinema screens now, where every move is split between so many cuts you can’t tell where anyone is or who’s winning. Vaughn goes back to our long shot fights and we love it.
While the film is not the smart satire that its predecessor was, that does not mean there is no cleverness in it at all. If there is one thing that Vaughn made sure The Golden Circle took from The Secret Service, it’s the ability to completely subvert our own expectations as to what will happen and what we think the film is capable of. One example is definitely the fight scenes – everyone working on The Golden Circle knew that the audience would be anxiously awaiting a fight scene to compare with the church fight scene (because that scene was, to quote Merlin, “f*cking spectacular!”), so they had to come up with something to thrill us. As I said, nothing quite measured up, but they DID manage to throw in a fight scene that we all ASSUMED as meant to be the final fight to measure up to the church scene, so that we would be slightly disappointed, only to be blown away when the best fight scene happened just a few minutes later. There’s also the situation with Harry to consider – many people thought that when the trailers to preview the film showed that Harry had survived, the biggest plot twist of the film was already spoiled. Harry was shown in the first film to have been shot through the eye, so other than explaining how it was possible to survive that, what other surprises could possibly compare as the rest of the film went on? In my opinion, Harry Hart’s survival was a red herring – we all assumed his survival would be the surprise, maybe even the focus, of the film, but as it turned out, his survival was the least interesting part of his appearance. His character made strides because of it, but that was not the only reason to have him there, and it was not the biggest jaw-dropping moment (I honestly give the President’s reaction to the crisis that honor, thank you Matthew Vaughn for asking Bruce Greenwood to be president again!).
That being said, Harry’s comeback did pose a bit of a problem for other characters – namely that their own screen time was destined to be sliced. Harry Hart was basically the face of the first film, even more than Eggsy who was technically the main character. This time, the two of them shared more of the limelight (maybe a testament to Eggsy coming into his own as a full agent, rather than a trainee), but that meant other people were losing their chance to shine. Almost all of the Statesmen were dramatically underused for how interested in them we were when they were announced. I mean, how American is it for them to name all their agents after alcohol?! Though their moments were cool when they happened, there should have been far more – I can’t even call out one character who I feel was really screwed over in their time limits, because I think most of them were. Our villainess Poppy did get her fair share, but her story suffered from lack of real reliability – she’s as charismatic as Valentine was, but her motives are far less interesting and it’s harder to get invested when a small, small part of us doesn’t believe that she’s doing the right thing (Valentine had a legit point about wanting to save the planet, Poppy was just bored because her drug trade kept her stuck on an island).
So at the end of the day, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not about being clever or tearing the James Bonds of the spy world a new one. The Golden Circle just wants us all to have fun, and there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t.
4 / 5
If you ask me, the Statesmen got a really bad trade – when the Kingsmen are in trouble, they get a bottle of whiskey. The Statesmen just get an umbrella.