Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

“Having something to lose is what makes life worth living.”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle features Elton John as a foul-mouthed hostage, robotic human eating dogs, baseball shaped grenades, and even a swim through bubbling sewage to arrive at a dinner date on time. There’s a suitcase that shoots like a machine gun, an underwater car, a cheeseburger made from a man forced through a meat grinder, and last but certainly not least, a tracking device attached to a finger-sized condom that must finagle its way below the belt and between the legs of a female accomplice in crime (Poppy Delevingne). To call it perverse is a bit of an understatement, and to say that it’s 2 hour and 20 minute run time is insanely over-inflated doesn’t really do such a description proper justice. But Kingsman 2 is a marked and a matured improvement over the original. Somehow it manages to never burst or bore.

Having sat through Matthew Vaughn’s first film again after seeing his sequel, I have to swallow my pride and admit that I’m not quite sure where I was coming from with my review from two years back. In it I used the callous words, “This was the first film of 2015 that I can confidently say I hated.” I’ve been objectively wrong about some movies; Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of them. It’s still not a film I particularly like, but I do see the appeal in its crass upheaval of the spy genre and came to appreciate all of the style it actively engages in (although I still absolutely loath Jackson’s approach on an otherwise well-written antagonist). The Secret Service is entertaining but a bit too juvenile for more liking, whereas The Golden Circle stays consistent in its drunken folly, only this time around it’s sipping an aged whiskey on the rocks rather than taking shots of Old Crow Whiskey like a college kid on a budget, especially considering the class Colin Firth brings to his resurrected role as Harry Hart.

Once again, Vaughn abruptly and forcefully throws up into the deep end from the very start with scant an idea of how to swim in this reckless world. This time it’s a marvelous, inventive car-chase that will leave your head spinning. It signals the return of Eggsy (Taron Egerton), computer whiz Merlin (Mark Strong), and pushes the plot forward as best it can. Eggsy has to balance work, his life dating the Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), and deal with the repercussions of massive loss after all of the other Kingsman are targeted and obliterated by an unknown enemy. Eggsy and Merlin share a bottle of secretly stashed booze to mourn their colleagues, and this tiny scene expands the franchise’s universe tenfold, sending our two Brits off to meet the so-called Statesman in Kentucky. Tequila (Channing Tatum) doesn’t offer a warm welcome, Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) engages in a mission with Eggsy, Champ (Jeff Bridges) is the CEO and overseer of the operation, and Ginger (Halle Berry) is the American computer geek. Kingsman 2 is a sequel and a doubled down bet on the first entry’s best strengths. This makes it overlong, but I think it makes it twice as interesting as well.

However, this feast is very heavy and we definitely feel it, which isn’t to call it disgusting (granted some parts veer into the grotesque and the masochistic), but it’s like picking pieces from a fatted calf that without a refined touch or proper story balance. Perhaps that is intentional, especially considering that The Golden Circle is basically an ode to its first adventure and a subtle redo of many similar scenarios. Some shots are flat-out copied and some barely altered at all. We can sense the clumsiness even when the insane action overshadows the fumbles. There’s a noticeable lack of refreshing fizz to it all, as if this is the remains of a can of soda that was opened and drank and put back in the fridge. We’ve chugged it before. But where Kingsman 2 becomes something more is in its psychotically inspired villainy from Julianne Moore as the vain drug dealer Poppy.

Vaughn can direct the hell out of action sequences with his “hypercam” style, has an ear for cutting hard R-rated bits of dialogue, but I’d still say that this sequel borders along the lines of pretentiousness. Including a villain like Poppy and her intent to legalize all drugs – just as the ban on booze was done away with at the end of Prohibition in 1933 – gives her megalomaniac tendencies a little humanity and social justice. She’s a redheaded rattlesnake ready to strike for attention. Vaughn goes one step further though, incriminating mass government incarceration and the current mess we call the White House, and while justifiably prudent, it nonetheless adds outfits to a suitcase that can already barely lock shut. Kingsman: The Golden Circle packs a month’s worth of showmanship and imbecilic haute couture for what should only be a weekend getaway. The film struts its stuff well, and does so with a more assured walk than that of the last entry, but the show just goes on for too long and flatters itself a bit too much. Vaughn has directed what is the film equivalent of a rock concert. Somebody off-stage needed to help Vaughn have the awareness and the confidence to know when to cut this spectacular encore short.

“There’s no time for emotion in this scenario.”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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