There’s always something a little concerning about Matthew Vaughn’s films. He’s directed some wonderful films: Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, even the first Kingsman! But there’s always an unreal sheen to the action, an iffy political sentiment, and some fairly poor taste humour. Unfortunately there’s more of this in Kingsman: The Golden Circle than most.
The sequel to 2014’s Kingsman, The Golden Circle sees secret agent Eggy trying to take down drug merchant Poppy Adams, played by Julianne Moore. She successfully destroys the Kingsmen organisation, leaving Eggy and his trusty tech guy Merlin at the mercy of the Statesmen, the American equivalent of the Kingsmen.
With the change of scenery come some new characters; Halle Berry’s tech guru Ginger, Jeff Bridge’s authoritative Champ, Pedro Pascal’s smooth agent Whiskey and last, and unfortunately least, Channing Tatum’s Tequila. It’s very cheeky that they put Tatum on so much of the film’s marketing when he’s in so little of it. He is, however, around long enough to provide two of my favourite moments in the film: him doing a maniacal square dance and then later wearing an excellent suit. My bar isn’t very high.
The performances are fine. It was particularly nice to see Mark Strong back as the surprisingly soft and comforting Merlin. He even gets a lovely moment of vulnerability for us to emote along with. Jullianne Moore is fantastic as the main villain. She far surpasses the somewhat awkward performance of Samuel L Jackson in the original. She’s just the right amount of over the top to fit in with the comic tone of the film.
Vaughan has a very specific way of shooting action. He likes to slow things down, move the camera in dramatic and unnatural ways and use a lot of CGI elements. I’ve always enjoyed the action scenes in Vaughan’s films in spite of these decisions, not because of them. The church sequence from the original film is probably his best, and is the one that uses the least intrusive editing, though the camera movements quickly destroy any notion that any of this might actually be happening.
In The Golden Circle the actions scenes feel particularly underwhelming. Some good choreography makes it into the frame, but there’s nothing as viscerally exciting as the first film, save maybe the opening taxi fight, Whisky’s one man army moment and the final fight between Eggy and Charlie. Other sequences were very dull, especially a prolonged sequence involving a ski lift that reminded me of the personality-less excess of Bond at its worst.
The humour of the film is problematic. The most troubling sequence involves a mission in which Eggy must place a tracking device into the vagina of a villain’s girlfriend. He will later use his success in doing this (spoilers?) to shame both the villain and the girlfriend. This sounds like a premise from The Brothers Grimsby, but it’s played all too straight in The Golden Circle. The effect of this and similar shock moments is that the film is often very obnoxious. Speaking of which, there is a recurring Elton John cameo that is far more often awkward and annoying than it is amusing.
My favourite scene in the film is actually a flashback. Eggy is offered some etiquette instruction by his girlfriend before he is due to have dinner with her parents. He turns her down, saying that he’s already received such training. We then get a scene from the timeline of the first film in which Colin Firth’s Galahad delivers some fine advice to Eggy in his wonderfully authoritative, fatherly, but never condescending tone. This is what I liked about the original Kingsman. The idea that behind all the flashy effects and crude jokes, the film bore the message that there is still some validity to this quaint idea of being a gentlemen, and that the notion was flexible enough to apply to modern times. In The Golden Circle this contrast between the message and the messenger is just a little too off-putting.
I did however enjoy the pacing of the film. It moved along nicely, with good variation in locales. Taron Egerton was charming enough that I was invested in his goals, and there were enough eccentric side characters and strange twists to keep me from losing interest. Ultimately this film just represents the tipping point for me where Vaughan’s problematic creative decisions, his taste and his sense of style, tip the balance against the charm that’s carried over from the previous movie.
2 / 5
Paul Salt is the co-host of the podcast One Good Thing.