Editor’s Notes: Kingsman: The Golden Circle open in wide theatrical release September 22nd.
Writer-director Matthew Vaughan had 414 million reasons – or rather his producing partners did – for making a sequel to 2015’s semi-surprising comic-book adaptation, Kingsman: The Secret Service. With that kind of return on investment (ROI) equal to more than four times the production budget, a sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, was – to borrow an overused scientific term – a no-brainer (i.e., inevitable). What wasn’t inevitable, however, was an over-indulgent, overlong, overstuffed story or a bloated running time (thanks, Michael Bay). Not that it was unexpected, of course. Over-indulgence, bombast, and excess have been part of Vaughan’s filmmaking DNA ever since he severed ties with the similarly over-indulgent, bombastic, and excessive writer-director Guy Ritchie, transitioning from producer to director more than a decade ago. Whenever he showed a measure of restraint (e.g., X-Men: First Class), it was less by choice or preference than studio dictate, meaning the Kingsman series falls squarely on Vaughan’s shoulders.
Vaughan and Goldman obviously have little love or sympathy for right-wing conservatives, pitting broad, ugly, reactionary caricatures against the Kingsman-Statesman combo, but they’re almost as eager to offend moviegoers on the opposite side of the political divide.
When we last saw Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), he was on top of the world, figuratively and maybe even literally. Saving the world from almost certain destruction – or at least in this case, saving the vast bulk of humanity from a murder-inducing virus – gave Eggsy all of the validation he needed to prove his super-secret agent bona fides. But with the near total destruction of the bespoke-suited Kingsman, a privately funded intelligence agency, Eggsy moved into a prime spot in the Kingsman hierarchy as Galahad, replacing his onetime mentor/father figure, Harry Hart, (Colin Firth), cold-bloodedly murdered by The Secret Service’s lisping über-villain, Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Eggsy has also settled into a blissfully monogamous relationship with Princess Tilde of Sweden. (He might be a super-spy, but he’s no James Bond). Once the punchline to a tasteless, offensive joke in Kingsman: The Secret Service, here she’s been elevated to a major female character, albeit the obligatory romantic interest or foil for the valiant, intrepid hero.
Vaughan and his screenwriting partner, Jane Goldman (X-Men: First Class, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Kick-Ass), relegate Eggsy’s former training partner and fellow Kingsman, Roxanne “Roxy” Morton (Sophie Cookson), to an early film cameo, the “guy in the chair” who helps Eggsy navigate one of the greatest challenges of his adult life: a meet-and-greet, sit-down dinner with Princess Tilde’s imposing parental units, the King and Queen of Sweden. Once Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong), find themselves on the run from Kingsman: The Golden Circle’s central villain, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a Martha Stewart-inspired, über-kingpin whose somehow managed to monopolize the global drug trade (all of it), they’re off to the states – as in the United States of America – where they hope to connect with the Statesman, the Kingsman’s American counterparts.
Where the Kingsman emulate their upper-class betters through bespoke suits and manners, the Statesman take their cues from American Westerns (cowboys to be more precise), skimming the proceeds from their highly lucrative whiskey distillery to fund their secret agent adventures. The Statesman take their code names not from Arthurian legends, but from alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. (It’s even less funny and amusing than it sounds.) Their laconic, Southern-accented tour guide, Tequila (Channing Tatum), introduces them to Champagne (Jeff Bridges), the gruff, raspy-voiced leader of the Statesman, along with the bullwhip and electric-lasso-wielding Jack Daniels/Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, Game of Thrones), and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry, wasted in a thankless, throwaway role), the Statesman’s counterpart to Merlin (Mark Strong). Vaughan and Goldman play bait-and-switch with Tatum’s character, swapping him out for the presumably less expensive Pascal’s character, Whiskey, when Eggsy, Merlin, and a resurrected, one-eyed Harry (Firth again) join forces to stop Poppy’s presumably evil plan for something less than world domination.
Sometimes it’s best to quite while you’re ahead and leave moviegoers with fond memories and a desire to see more than to give them that “more” and disappoint them utterly and completely with a sub-par, sub-mediocre effort.
Poppy may have all the money in the world (or most of it), but what she really wants is the respect of her peers, the legit captains of industry. Her Big Plan involves creating a worldwide problem, then offering a solution to said worldwide problem in exchange for the legitimization of her global business enterprises, but she doesn’t count on a duplicitous American president (Bruce Greenwood) with a not-so-hidden draconian agenda of his own. He’s as much a villain in Kingsman: The Golden Circle as Poppy. She might be a sociopathic CEO with a penchant for literally grinding her underlings into raw meat when they disappoint her and a ‘50s nostalgic streak, but at least her intentions are out in the open. They might be even noble whereas the U.S. president’s response hides a callow, callous, inflexible mindset driven by a moral certainty of the right-wing Christian kind.
Vaughan and Goldman obviously have little love or sympathy for right-wing conservatives, pitting broad, ugly, reactionary caricatures against the Kingsman-Statesman combo, but they’re almost as eager to offend moviegoers on the opposite side of the political divide. Rejecting criticism of the anal intercourse “joke” in Kingsman: The Secret Circle,” Vaughan and Goldman double down, introducing a one-of-a-kind, super-accurate tracking device that can be only inserted via mucus membrane. The device leaves the monogamous Eggsy in a tricky predicament: Use it on the girlfriend of his bionically armed nemesis, Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), to locate Poppy’s secret jungle lair and risk losing the love of his life or find an alternative and keep his romantic relationship on solid, monogamous ground. You can guess which choice Eggsy ultimately makes and why Kingsman: The Golden Circle treats yet another secondary female character as the disposable punchline to another egregious joke.
Add to that – or rather subtract from that – a series of increasingly dull, repetitive set pieces (with only the opening, Bond-inspired set piece and another set on a mountainside tram) – odd, discomforting tonal shifts, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine why anyone, aside from Vaughan, Goldman, and their producers, would want to reenter the Kingsman universe a third or fourth time. Sometimes less really is more. Sometimes it’s best to quite while you’re ahead and leave moviegoers with fond memories and a desire to see more than to give them that “more” and disappoint them utterly and completely with a sub-par, sub-mediocre effort.
A series of increasingly dull, repetitive set pieces (with only the opening, Bond-inspired set piece and another set on a mountainside tram) – odd, discomforting tonal shifts, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine why anyone, aside from Vaughan, Goldman, and their producers, would want to reenter the Kingsman universe a third or fourth time.