Review by C.J. Bunce
The new sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service (reviewed here at borg.com) starts as you’d hope for, immediately slamming viewers into high gear with a frenetic car chase featuring BAFTA-winning actor Taron Egerton’s Brit spy Eggsy, defending himself from a kidnapping with the same level of over-the-top superhero moves that saved him from similar threats in the first film. After the introduction of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which opens this Friday nationwide, the film loses the freshness and style of the original and shifts from a faithful James Bond homage to Bond as it might be interpreted by the Coen Brothers. Where the original careened into the stuff of a Quentin Tarantino film in its major action sequences, the sequel shifts into a quirky blend of gore, explosives, and caricatures that moves beyond Bond homage to more of an Austin Powers parody.
The sequel offers up a top tier cast. BAFTA winner Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Stardust, Kick-Ass, Green Lantern, John Carter, Zero Dark Thirty) returns as Merlin and–no surprise from the trailers–Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, Shakespeare in Love, Pride and Prejudice) is back as agent Galahad and Edward Holcroft (Wolf Hall) returns as rejected Kingsman Charlie. Audiences saw both die in the original. Firth is picture-perfect in every scene, as if he was always destined to have a 007 role. Holcroft, who you might easily mistake for Chris Evans, offers up a more fleshed out character this round, and he gets some of the better one-on-one battles against Eggsy, complete with a nifty Swiss Army multi-functional borg arm.
New to the world of the Kingsmen are their American spy agency counterparts. The leader is played by Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, RIPD, Hell or High Water, Tron, True Grit, Iron Man) in a classic Southern-accented delivery, appearing for a few brief scenes. Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall, The Adjustment Bureau, Game of Thrones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), whose moustache makes him a ringer for a 1970s Burt Reynolds, breaks out in his performance as an agent with some mad lasso skills. And true to form, genre favorite Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street) shows up with the swagger of a Southern lawman, but in only the briefest of scenes, much like his smaller roles in G.I. Joe: Retribution and Hail, Caesar! The U.S. spy squad is full of Hee Haw-vibed caricatures of Americans, albeit echoing Joe Don Baker’s drawling U.S. roles in three Bond movies (The Living Daylights, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies). The women have the better parts in Kingsman: The Golden Circle: Academy Award winner Halle Barry (X-Men series, Catwoman, Monster’s Ball) is the American “Q” with the nicely Ian Fleming name of Ginger Ale–the former “Bond girl” flipping sides this time from Bond co-lead and love interest (Die Another Day) to the current Ben Whishaw I.T. guru role. And Academy Award winner Julianne Moore (The Big Lebowski, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Children of Men) is the film’s villain, a drug kingpin named Poppy–a strange, comic books-meet-Coen Brothers baddie bent on world domination, with scary calm Jack Nicholson Joker insanity and a 1950s chic. We’ve seen some Bond villains far out there, but Moore’s Poppy is one who could out-crazy them all.
Supporting characters include Hanna Alström returning as Princess Tilde, Poppy Delevingne (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) as Charlie’s girlfriend, Michael Gambon (Harry Potter series, Doctor Who, Layer Cake, Hail, Caesar!) as Arthur, Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek, Super 8, Mark Felt, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) as a George W. Bush-esque U.S. president, Emily Watson (Everest, War Horse, Gosford Park) as the president’s chief of staff, and singer Elton John, who actually has a substantial role in the film (much more than Keith Richards or Paul McCartney in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies).
Part of the problem with the sequel was in the planning–apparently director Matthew Vaughn didn’t realize the hit he had with the original because he didn’t lay much groundwork for a sequel, leaving many minutes devoted to backtracking and explanatory material, and even a major plot repeat. Fans of Vaughn’s nonstop, in-your-face action sequences (also found in Kick-Ass and Layer Cake) will likely be happy with the result. But it was the contrast of the young Eggsy and his street slang with Firth’s high-brow Brit mannerisms–and all the nuanced moments between the two–that made the original so watchable. Far fewer of those subtle moments can be found in the sequel, instead swapping in a playlist of popular music (which seems to be a theme from Hollywood these days), ear-pounding sound effects, and more bodies on the ground.
No single scene matches the spectacle of Colin Firth in the church scene from the first film, but villain Poppy is a fan of her expensive technology, so expect to see some nicely realized borg and other cyber creations from the special effects department. And who wouldn’t want to replicate Poppy’s 1950s diner? A classic Bond-inspired snowy alpine escape scene looks great thanks to Quantum of Solace and Tomb Raider (2018) cinematographer George Richmond. Surprisingly the film speeds along despite a 141-minute run time. Plenty of action and a great cast makes for a rowdy summer romp, but fans of the original may see this one veering too far from what made the original so unique.
A must for fans of director Matthew Vaughn, the Coen Brothers style (Bridges, Moore, bowling, people grinding, and more), and (who knew?) Elton John, but probably one that could wait for the home release for everyone else, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in theaters nationwide this Friday, September 22, 2017.