KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
Matthew Vaughn creates an opening sequence that leaves you completely exhausted before the film even starts – one with Taron Egerton fighting with a cyborg-armed Edward Holcroft in a taxi while being fired at by pursuing vehicles in a chase through the streets of London, resulting in him hanging out the door and on the roof of the cab, being dragged behind on a torn-off door before eliminating his pursuers with missiles and evading pursuing police in a move that requires him to hold his breath as he drives the cab into the lake to get to an underwater hideout. It’s a sequence filled with so much energy and throwaway wit that one feels like they have had a full workout before the film begins. It is notedly also a sequence that seems to be homaging its models – the chase sequences in James Bond films like Goldfinger (1964) and especially The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
On the other hand, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not as smart and funny as Kingsman: The Secret Service was. The first film was an origin story – it was driven by the arc of the hero’s induction into a secret society and struggling to prove himself in a punishing training regimen. Here this is replaced by a series of over-the-top action sequences and the parody of British gentlemanliness has largely been dropped. The Golden Circle does try to substitute a parody of Americanness, although this is nowhere as near as amusingly sharp and over-the-top – The Statesman headquarters is located beneath a whisky distillery and the agents go into action in cowboy hats and their arsenal contains items like nifty collapsible bullwhips, baseball bats that double as mine detectors, baseballs that are hand grenades and so on. It is a broad caricature of Americana but nowhere as amusing as ‘Kingsman was in parodying the bowler hatted gentleman spy as personified by Patrick MacNee in The Avengers (1962-9). The other disappointment during these scenes is that the publicity made a big thing of introducing Channing Tatum, considered one of the hottest actors in the world, as the American equivalent of Tamson Egort. However, after a great entrance, Tatum is then sidelined infected with the drug and the rest of the show, bar one or two scenes, plays out with the far more anonymous Pedro Pascal as the Statesman agent who joins the others.
The main problem with the plot is that in not being anchored by an origin story it only occasionally stumbles towards the cleverness of the first film. Most of the middle is a series of extruded action sequences that feel more overblown – a gigantic and exhausting one that involves a runaway ski gondola – than necessarily enthralling. Between The Secret Service and The Golden Circle, it feels like what we have has gone from the wry parody of a spy film we had in Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery (1997) – albeit a less adolescent, more grown-up Austin Powers – to the bloated excess of the worst of the Roger Moore era say around the time of Moonraker (1979) where it is hard to tell if the over-the-top action sequences are intended as parodies or not. It is only occasionally that The Golden Circle stumbles back towards the smart and funny puncturing of spy cliches that Kingsman: The Secret Service offered. One of the wittiest scenes is one that spoofs the James Bond superstud myth where Taron Egerton has to bed Poppy Delevingne in order to plant a bug inside her but in the midst of doing so has a crisis where he has to call up girlfriend Hanna Alström and beg her permission to do for the sake of the mission.
That said, you do have to admit that Matthew Vaughn has an ability to direct action sequences that far surpasses any of his American contemporaries. Pedro Pascal has a showstopping scene taking down several rednecks in a bar, an Americanised spin on the one where Colin Firth demolished a barroom of drunken idiots in the first film. There is an exhilarating scene where Colin Firth, Tamson Egort and Pedro Pascal tackle various of Julianne Moore’s minions in her diner where Matthew Vaughn completely shows off what he can do. Beneath what might otherwise be a regular action film and spy parody, Matthew Vaughn has a rather dark sense of humour that keeps coming through. Where in another spy film, the villain might feed recalcitrant acolytes into a pit of crocodiles, here we have rather blackly funny scenes where Julianne Moore (whose headquarters is a replica of a 1950s diner) feeds lackeys into a meat grinder and serving them up as burgers.
On the other hand, what kills the smartness of Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a series of real-world intrusions that rupture the fantasy world the film exists in. One of these is that super-villain Julianne Moore’s hideout in the jungle comes with a theatre that has a billboard that is blatantly plugging distributor 20th Century Fox’s Captain Fantastic (2016) – seen not just once but on multiple occasions. Furthermore, all of the news bulletins we see throughout are presented by Fox News – a news channel that has become notorious for the degree of wholly biased spin it places on news to slant it to conservative America,. The film is a principally British-made work and what kept dragging me back to the real world was the intrusion of this news channel that has a notoriety in the real world for the absurd degree of blatant bias they give to news. It is something that considerably ruptures the fantasy that the first film created for itself.
Matthew Vaughn first appeared as a producer on several of Guy Ritchie’s early films before making his directorial debut with Layer Cake (2004), a British crime film in the Ritchie mould. He first gained genre attention here with the fine adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (2007). This set Vaughn on a Hollywood career where he has made Kick-Ass (2010), also adapted from a Mark Millar comic-book, and X: First Class (2011). He has also acts as producer on other comic-book adapted properties such as Kick-Ass 2 (2013), X-Men: Days of the Future Past (2014) and Fantastic Four (2015).