There is a very large, very soft spot in my heart for movies that know precisely what they are, that point to a specific target, Babe Ruth-style, and then absolutely nail that target. Even if -- or especially if -- that target is idiotic. "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is one of the all-time greats at this very specific form of cinema.
Let's be straight here: The movie is silly. Like, real-life Elton John-fights-a-robotic-dog-with-a-bowling-ball silly. And it's near-perfection. The film is a master class in entertainment without pretension, with just enough human moments to ensure the audience is invested in the people at the center of the wackiness.
"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is the sequel to 2014's "Kingsman: The Secret Service," both starring Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the working class Brit who in the first film was recruited into a secret, extremely high-brow intelligence organization hidden in a tailor's shop on London's Saville Row. In the new film, the Kingsman are nearly all taken out in a massive missile strike, and it falls on Eggsy to track down the perpetrator with the help of an American version of the Kingsman called the Statesman. The Statesman's headquarters hides behind a whiskey barrel at a distillery in Kentucky, because of course it does. (For reasons that are beyond me, I had a swelling of national pride at the movie's over-the-top depiction of the American South that somehow comes across as a tribute, rather than a parody.)
The first film largely aimed for the same target as its sequel in that the two share an irreverent tone, spectacularly choreographed action sequences and breezy comedy. But to me there were two major (and one minor) flaws with that the first film that are worth discussing here because I think that "Golden Circle" corrects them all, pushing the movie a head above its predecessor.
First, the first film's villain was a weak spot. Samuel L. Jackson played tech mogul-turned-megalomaniac Valentine with a weird lisp and in a generally odd, very un-Samuel L. Jackson-like way (which defeats the purpose of hiring Samuel L. Jackson). I think it was meant to be a satire of tech billionaires, but it just didn't quite work and was a distraction. In "Golden Circle," the main villain, Poppy, is played by Julianne Moore, who is clearly enjoying her turn as the sweet looking but monstrous leader of an international drug cartel. Poppy's cheerful menace is spot on for the tone of the film -- at the same time deeply unnerving and funny. Also, Poppy reigns from a mountaintop hideout that is this close to a volcanic lair, and I'm just so happy about that.
Second, in the first film I just didn't like Eggsy that much. Of course it's a highly subjective opinion and I have no solid reason why, but it was just hard for me to get behind a movie in which I thought the protagonist should be punched in the face every now and then. In "Golden Circle," Eggsy is downright lovable -- mostly thanks to a brilliant trick by the filmmakers that takes something of a throwaway gag from the first movie and spins it into a sweet subplot. And Egerton manages to find some subtle humanity and vulnerability between ridiculous action sequences that really sells Eggsy as a fully formed, if not exactly complex, person.
The minor flaw in the first film was a scene in which southern Baptists, who have been turned into crazed killers, are massacred in a church by Eggsy's boss Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth. The scene made some sense in relation to the plot and the action was choreographed well, but the whole idea of it was mean, disturbing and off-putting. "Golden Circle" simply doesn't have a scene like that, so problem solved. (One bar fight in the new movie comes kind of close, but I don't think anyone died in that one. And there is a cannibalism thing that is very off-putting, but in a different way.)
I'm not going to pretend to be as sophisticated enough of a reviewer to meaningfully discuss the more technical aspects of film-making, but the editors for this film deserve a lot of credit for the cutting of the action sequences. It can be difficult to find the line between showing manic movement and just being confusing -- some Bourne imitators come to mind -- and here "Golden Circle" walks that line. The action sequences are crazy but are done in a series of faux-long shots that makes them easy to follow and just cool to look at.
The only reason I've said the movie is "near-perfection" and not perfection for what it's trying to do is a little quibble I have involving Colin Firth's character, who was very much shot right in the head in the first movie. In this movie Harry Hunt is brought back in a subplot that appears to be in the service of further humanizing Eggsy, which it does well, but at the end of the day Hunt is not all that vital to the main plot. It seemed like a desperate move to get Firth back in the series because... does Colin Firth move ticket sales for action movies?
But, like I said, it's a little quibble in an overall fantastic film. And I didn't even get to the supporting cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Mark Strong and Pedro Pascal.
That's right. Channing Tatum, who plays Agent Tequila, at one point zombie dances in a hallway, and I didn't mention that until just now. That's how good of a movie this is.
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