In the first Kingsman movie, 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, Samuel L. Jackson clearly relished an against-type performance as a genius teach-head with a lisp, and a fashion sense somewhere between golf club and ghetto. His character’s provision of free data and SIM cards for everybody in the world was not so much a matter of philanthropy – rather, a nefarious, Zuckerberg-meets-Bond-villain plan to cull the human race en masse.
In the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the role of the kooky finger-tenting villain goes to Julianne Moore. She plays Poppy, a genius, ultra successful drug baron whose product is popular the world over. She has also spiked her own supply and is withholding the antidote, as part of a evil plan to solidify her power: an Escobarian 007 villain, with a freaky-deaky, take-the-world, psychopathic CEO glint in her eyes.
You could argue returning writer/director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman (adapting the comic book The Secret Service) are repeating themselves a little – at least, recycling elements of their pinky-finger-in-mouth baddies. Perhaps the salient point is that both villains, and by turn both films, deal with opiates of the masses, reflecting societies where people who are distracted by the lure of sweet stimulus pay the price in horrible ways.
The Kingsman films themselves, stimulus-wise, are high-powered and blinged to the hilt, with a lickety-split pace youngsters might expect of action movies these days – and an amount of visual invention they may not. Both the speed and inventiveness increase in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, resulting in a zanily entertaining popcorn flick that makes a habit of distracting viewers from its own achievements.
Poppy’s secret hideout is a tiny faux town she erected in her own honour, hugging the edge of a minefield-rigged patch of Colombian rain forest. It looks like like a studio backlot, styled on the likes of Happy Days or Grease, i.e. retro hamburger Americana – replete with diner, clothes shop, bowling alley and cinema.
I cannot recall a villain’s lair I enjoyed so much and wanted to return to so often.
In that cinema an enslaved Elton John, in fluffy rainbow-coloured garb, looking like a wonderful plump peacock, performs on command while robot dogs patrol the grounds. I cannot recall a villain’s lair I enjoyed so much and wanted to return to so often, at least since Breaking Bad‘s Los Pollos Hermanos (both the restaurant and the underground meth lab).
Moore steals the spotlight, though I suppose at this point in the review I should mention the protagonist. Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is, for those unaware, part of an ultra secretive British intelligence agency that shares its name with – and is located beneath – a fancy clothes store.
He earned entry to this IMF, MI6, debonair secret service-esque clique through a series of tournament and escape room style challenges in The Golden Circle’s predecessor. This is where, as his mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) puts it, before locking the door of a pub and belting the crap out of ruffians, “manners maketh the man”.
Kingsman is a sort of rags to riches story, Eggsy graduating from the Irish lower class to become the smoking jacket, debonair type, in line to marry the Princess of Sweden (Hanna Alström). There is a note of Grimsby about it; spy satire itself rendered as a sign of absurd privilege. Mark Strong co-stars in both, on each side of the pecking order (affluent in Grimsby, working class in Kingsman). His bellowing with-a-bang rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads is a highlight.
Golden Circle is a film, even more than its predecessor, about fantasies men-children wish were true. That clothes and whiskey companies are secretly, awfully important. That having an affair could save the world. That a wise mentor will arrive at the right time, offering sage advice and a finely configured cocktail. That adult life is an extension of those moments when, as kids, we grabbed rubbish bin lids and pretended they were shields. In Kingsman umbrellas do the job, and glasses become augmented reality-enabled spy tools.
There is no shortage of style and aplomb, though you’ll have to pay attention to absorb it.
A supporting cast of famous faces – including Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges – are largely under-used, if not wasted in The Golden Circle (although Tatum has fun playing a Southern American spy masquerading as a whisky distiller). This is because Vaughn, one of the more interesting directors of superhero movies (he also helmed Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class) views them as human special effects: just another portion of the frame to muck around with in the editing room.
The Golden Circle is overlong, losing its litheness with a chubby 141 minute running time. James Bond satire is now also very familiar, from Austin Powers to the cartoonish, gibbering 007 movies themselves – i.e. Die Another Day. But Vaughn retains elbow room for outside-the-square messages, including a commentary on political machinations and the war on drugs, synthesised into one gloriously grisly dystopian image: hundreds of people in single person cages stacked on top of each other in sports stadiums.
The film is also visually interesting. Lord knows how long it took to create all the embellishments that come and go in a heartbeat, such as a crafty transition morphing from a close-up of a bag of grass to an overhead shot of Colombian rainforest. There is no shortage of style and aplomb, though you’ll have to pay attention to absorb it: the editing throws everything – even and especially the film’s greatest assets – into a blender.
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