Gentlemen Are Still Badasses in Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Matthew Vaughn is one of the best action directors working today. His films Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service have some of the most exciting, well-shot and well-choreographed action sequences in years. His latest film, the sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, has all the kinetic action of his previous films, but his flaws as a storyteller have never been more apparent.

The first Kingsman movie introduced the titular spy agency, a clandestine group of gentlemen badasses who wore finely-tailored suits and also just so happened to be lethal killing machines. The first film showed the training of Eggsy, a Kingsman recruit with a lot of potential. Eggsy eventually became a full-fledged Kingsman agent and helped save the world from a megalomaniac bent on cleansing the world by killing most of its population.

It was a very fun movie that was a big hit when it was released in 2014. Now the sequel is here, and it’s a mess. Mind you, it’s a fun mess. But it is still a mess.


Image: 20th Century Fox

Let’s start with the characters. There are too many of them, and the movie has no idea what to do with most of them. There are returning characters from the movie. The movie doesn’t know what to do with them, and promptly kills many of them off. There are new characters. The movie doesn’t know what to do with them, and promptly shunts many of them off to the side for most of the overlong 141-minute running time.

Colin Firth was the star of the first Kingsman movie, and watching the debonair, Oscar-winning English actor kick ass was an unexpected joy. Sadly, his character was killed off. But what do you know, he’s back for the sequel! This isn’t a spoiler, he’s in all the trailers. How did he survive? I won’t spoil it, but I found the method of his survival to be awfully…well…convenient. My guess is that the filmmakers weren’t expecting Firth’s character to be such a hit, so they scrambled for a way to resurrect him in the sequel. It’s great to see Firth again, he’s great, but the new movie’s writing is sloppy.

Director Matthew Vaughn has no one but himself to blame for the movie’s sloppiness, since he co-wrote the screenplay. The movie’s marketing made a big deal out of the new characters, played by well-known actors such as Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Halle Berry. But these characters have very little to do. Tatum in particular is barely in the movie. He has one big scene, then disappears until the end. I wondered if his role was supposed to be bigger but there were scheduling issues or something which prevented it. The movie initially positions him as an American version of hero Eggsy, then promptly drops him for most of the movie. Tatum’s character, heavily featured in the film’s marketing, is an afterthought.

As for the plot, it’s far-fetched to say the least. If the first Kingsman movie strained the limits of credibility, the second one obliterates them and it is impossible to take anything in the movie seriously. Case in point: the villain, Poppy Adams, played by Julianne Moore. Poppy easily takes home the title of “Most Cheerful Villain of the Year.” She has her own plan for world domination, which involves contaminating recreational drugs such as marijuana and heroin so that they paralyze and eventually kill people who use them. She’s obsessed with the 1950’s and lives in a 50’s-inspired utopia in the middle of the jungle in Cambodia. She’s completely ridiculous. She’s quirky but not scary, no offense to Julianne Moore, who does what she can with a weirdly-written role. Poppy spends literally the entire movie in her jungle utopia, and never registers as a credible threat. Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the first Kingsman movie was much more intimidating and memorable.


Image: 20th Century Fox

Still, early in the movie Poppy does manage to obliterate most of the Kingsman organization in one fell swoop. Surviving members Eggsy (played by Taron Egerton) and Merlin (played by Mark Strong) realize that they need help, and this leads them to the discovery of the Statesmen, the American cousins of the Kingsmen. Where the Kingsmen are exaggerated versions of everything British, with their finely-tailored suits and impeccable manners, the Statesmen are exaggerated versions of all things ‘Murican.

You know, ‘Murican, like “American” with a thick southern drawl? The Statesmen are headquartered in Kentucky and are fond of lassos, revolvers, and cowboy hats and boots. Most of them have southern accents and all their agents are named after alcoholic beverages. Channing Tatum is Tequila, Halle Berry is Ginger Ale, and Jeff Bridges, the boss, is Champagne, or just Champ for short. There’s also Agent Whiskey, played by Pedro Pascal, a Game of Thrones alumnus whose character only lasted for one season before being killed in one of the most infamously gruesome deaths on a show known for killing main characters in grisly ways.

This movie is insane. It’s hard to put into words the sheer insanity that this movie puts on the screen. It has to be seen to be believed. The movie has an all-star cast, but there is one man who steals the entire movie. This is a bit of a spoiler, since this person’s involvement was kept pretty minimal in the film’s marketing.

Two words:

Elton.

John.

Yes, Sir Elton steals the movie. It turns out that Poppy has kidnapped him and forces him to perform songs for her at her jungle lair. He’s not very happy about it and yells a lot of f-words. Also, Poppy’s hideout is guarded by two robotic dogs named Bennie and Jet, who are programmed not to kill Elton John.

It’s hilarious.

It’s also utterly absurd.

And did I mention Poppy’ rather bizarre way of indoctrinating new henchmen? It involves making them eat hamburgers made out of, uh, other henchmen.

So, yeah.

This movie is batshit. It’s the most batshit movie I’ve seen all year. The plot is a ridiculous mess, most of the characters are underused, and it’s a good twenty minutes too long.

But at the end of the day, I still had fun with it. Was I entertained? You bet I was. Matthew Vaughn’s screenwriting and storytelling could use some work, but his direction of the action scenes is top-notch. The first scene of the movie is a ten-minute car chase through the middle of London involving cars armed with miniguns and a bad guy with a robotic arm, and it only gets crazier from there.

The climactic battle at Poppy’s jungle hideout is one of the most joyously fun action scenes I’ve seen all year. It’s set to Elton John’s classic song Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, which has always been a favorite of mine. Watching two Englishmen in bespoke suits battling an army of henchmen in a 50’s-inspired jungle utopia while Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting plays in the background is something I didn’t know how badly I needed until I saw it. Thank you, movie, for giving me back a piece of myself that I didn’t even know I was missing.


Image: 20th Century Fox

Look, this movie is a clusterf*ck on an epic scale, but hot damn if it isn’t still fun. Its flaws are legion but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s a guilty pleasure, for sure. I hope Matthew Vaughn keeps making movies this fun, although it would be nice if he sharpened up the writing a bit.

Coming up next is a movie that’s a bit obscure, but it’s one that I really like. I’m not seeing any new movies this weekend, so I’m going to take a look at a film from last year that it is an underseen gem. It’s a movie called Anthropoid. If you’ve never heard of it I’m not surprised. It’s a World War II film about the plot to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust. There’s going to be some dark stuff, but hopefully I can convince you to check out this underappreciated movie. See you next week.

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Gentlemen Can Be Badasses, Too

I am very proud to report that I did not see 50 Shades of Grey over the weekend. I have never and will never read the books, and I have never and will never see the movie. I take great pride in both of these facts. I spent my movie theater time last weekend watching Matthew Vaughn’s extremely entertaining and vastly superior Kingsman: The Secret Service.

kingsman-secret-service-most-poster

I can think of three ways to best describe Kingsman. The first is that if Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost were to make a spy movie, it would be pretty similar to Kingsman. The second is that Vaughn’s film is kind of like a Sean Connery-era Bond film on crack and/or steroids. The third is that the Kingsmen are kind of like British G.I. Joes, a secret agency of world-saving badasses.

The main difference between the Kingsmen and G.I. Joes is that, while the American world-savers are of the more rough-and-tumble, down-and-dirty persuasion, the British world-savers are consummate gentlemen in exquisitely-tailored suits.

kingsman suits

The film’s main character is Harry Hart, code-named Galahad, played by the wonderful actor Colin Firth. Other members include Merlin, played by Mark Strong, and Arthur, the head of the organization, played by Michael Caine (because who else could it be?).

The plot concerns Eggsy, a young man recruited by Harry to join the Kingsmen. The film splits its time between Eggsy’s training and the efforts of a rich madman named Richmond Valentine (played by Samuel L. Jackson, speaking with a lisp and wearing an array of multicolored New York Yankees baseball caps) to exterminate most of mankind.

I won’t go into much more detail about the rest of the plot, but suffice to say that Valentine’s evil plan involves mind-controlling everyone on the planet to basically get them all to beat each other to death, which leads to a couple of brutally hilarious scenes late in the movie in which people on the streets of London and the beaches of Rio are all beating the absolute hell out of each other.

And speaking of beating the hell out of people, director Matthew Vaughn has a real eye for fast-paced, brutal action. His previous films include the comic-book adaptations X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, as well as the bone-cracking crime thriller Layer Cake, which gave Daniel Craig one of his first starring roles.

With Kingsman, Vaughn perfects his particular style of hyperkinetic action, producing wickedly fast-paced, intricately-choreographed, and at times shockingly violent fight scenes. The standout fight takes place in a church where Valentine tests his mind-control apparatus, which leads to an incredibly violent sequence in which all the occupants of the church, including Harry, all go insane and murder the hell out of each other, with Harry as the only survivor due to his lethal spy skills.

kingsman church fight

The experience of watching Colin Firth kick ass is pretty awesome. Matthew Vaughn seems to specialize in making action stars out of people you would really not expect to be action stars, and watching Firth, a 54-year-old actor known mainly for romantic comedies and serious dramas, beat the hell out of a whole building full of people reminded me of watching then-13-year-old Chloe Moretz kill waves of mobsters in Kick-Ass. It also reminded me of watching Liam Neeson beating Albanian sex-traffickers to death in the original Taken.

Kingsman is heavily reminiscent of Sean Connery’s Bond films (which are directly referenced at one point in the movie), except with a much higher body count and many more f-words. I don’t know why, but hearing people with very proper-sounding English accents say f*ck and sh*t a lot is always endlessly hilarious to me.

The spy gadgets used in the film, which include such gems as cigarette lighters that double as hand grenades, bulletproof umbrellas that shoot various projectiles, pens that can be used to poison people, watches that fire sleeping darts, and knife-tipped shoes, are all the kinds of things that Q would supply Bond with back in the 60’s and 70’s (the knife-shoes, for example, are straight out of From Russia With Love). And of course, those finely-tailored suits are also bulletproof.

Don’t go into Kingsman expecting a serious spy thriller in the vein of the recent Bond films, go into it simply expecting to have a good time and you will not be disappointed. It’s based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar, who also wrote the graphic novels that were the basis for the films Wanted and Kick-Ass, and if you’ve seen either of those films you have a general idea of what kind of insanity to expect from this one.

I mean, the villain’s henchwoman has prosthetic razor-blade legs, which is every bit as insane and ridiculous as it sounds, and also allowed the marketing department for the movie to spoof the famous poster for the 1981 Roger Moore Bond film For Your Eyes Only (which, for the record, is my favorite of Moore’s Bond movies).

kingsman bondkingsman spoof

See what they did there? I mean, who doesn’t remember that Bond poster? I wasn’t even alive when that movie came out and even I remember that poster.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not perfect of course. The plot follows a lot of very familiar beats and I had issues with the unsatisfying and anticlimactic death of a major character, but as a whole the movie is still very enjoyable. It’s a whirlwind blend of hyperkinetic action, over-the-top spy shenanigans, and some really great British actors. Colin Firth in particular looks like he is having a great time, and you probably will too.