Review by C.J. Bunce
What shines through in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Tim Waggoner‘s novelization of this summer’s successful sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service is how lead spy Eggsy is so different from James Bond. Even Ian Fleming’s later Bond novels don’t include the fast-paced, extended action sequences found in modern spy stories like this latest foray into the genre. Both spies are dressed to the nines, they have a tech whiz supporting their efforts, and a smarter, wiser mentor guiding them. But that’s where they veer apart. Taking a graphic novel based world, then translating it to film, and back to prose requires certain elements be retained and others fleshed out. Waggoner’s latest novel strikes the right balance–it is loyal to the source material, an interesting deep-dive into each of the story’s characters, and a fun read. It’s also a good opportunity to compare the world of the Kingsman to other spy novels.
Eggsy, as seen on the screen, requires the viewer to get into his head to try to understand his motivations if he is to be something other than a plugged-in action hero. His quick reactions are part of what defines the character and the Kingsmen–these are not simply the best agents but agents that are confident and cocky and their moves fully back up the confidence. In the novel we see that Eggsy is as nice a guy as he is a brilliantly tuned, results-driven machine. When he must get into bed with a target to plant a tracking device, he first hides in the bathroom to call his girlfriend. Is he unwilling to commit to her because he is a James Bond womanizer? No, he just hasn’t thought that far, in part because he’s a dumb street kid thrust into the spy world.
As we read earlier this year in Donald E. Westlake’s superb Forever and a Death, modern spy stories–like every new Bond movie–require more intrigue, more double crosses, more politics, and maybe something new. Kingsman: The Golden Circle provides all of this. The “new” is found in different places–in your face and over-the-top violence that draws from the Coen Brothers and Tarantino, a lead who is more street urchin than London elite, a villain that out-crazies every Bond villain you can think of, and the real twist–a crime that seems to draw more from the zombie genre than the spy genre.
The other piece that makes Kingsman: The Golden Circle unique is the heavy reliance on a real-life person within the story’s plot. That’s pop singer and icon Sir Elton John. Without Elton John, you just don’t have the second half of the story. The absurdity of that is going to mean as a reader (or movie watcher) you either go along with it and enjoy it or you walk away. The novel explains more of the reason for including the singer than mere novelty. It’s easier to see the ties between Poppy and Elton John along the way in print. The obvious planning and technology required to make Poppy’s robotic dogs Bennie and Jet, for example, illustrate Poppy’s appreciation for Elton John is beyond that of your ordinary fan. Her mandate of a duet with her underling in “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” further defines the villain’s character as certifiable. And there is of course that desire to rule the world and willingness to risk the lives of millions to get there, with Elton John personally providing the accompaniment.
Where the film suffered by taking the spies out of the British realm and providing a fish out of water narrative by immersing the Brits into the Western/country tropes of the United States, the novel seems more toned down, focusing more on the characters and their motivations than descriptions of setting, and the often grating and cringeworthy generalizations of Americans seen in the film. Waggoner also succeeds at providing enough callbacks to the prior installment to remind readers (or tell readers who haven’t read or seen the prior story) why characters and relationships are important.
A good read with an interesting spy hero, with quick-paced action, and a modern over-the-top crime and noteworthy quirky villain, Tim Waggoner‘s novelization of Kingsman: The Golden Circle is available now here from Amazon.