Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Dir.: Matthew Vaughn
When Kingsman: The Secret Service came out, it was a surprise hit. Matthew Vaughn had begun to make a name for himself in the world of comic book directing with films such as Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class, and by the time the first Kingsman film rolled around, he had begun to solidify his directing style. With a knack for quick-editing, over-the-top action and generally snappy soundtrack cues, Vaughn has shown himself repeatedly to be a talented, stylish director when it comes to relaying action on screen. His knack for writing his films, however, tends to veer towards the long-winded and the hyper masculine, oftentimes veering off into narrative detours that never seem to compliment the film quite as well as his technical action prowess does. Perhaps no film better shows this lack of narrative cohesion in the face of fun, frenetic action than Kingsman: The Golden Circle. While this film is a likable watch, and a whole lot of fun just like its predecessor, it unfortunately fails to improve upon the original due to its narrative shortcomings, its lack of consistent narrative themes, its over-indebtedness to its predecessor (this film even shares some of the same exact scenes as the first, same direction and music and all,) and its misuse of certain characters and actors. It's a mixed bag that is recommendable only to existing Vaughn fans, and it's not the best showcase of the director's talent, nor the cast that is present, despite it being a generally serviceable slice of entertainment.
The film picks up where the first left off, as the Kingsman organization are wiped out by coordinated missile strikes, and the surviving Kingsman must work with their American counterparts, the Statesman, in order to find out who is responsible and get revenge. From there, the film's plot is pretty beat-for-beat replicated from the original, with the Statesman thrown in as the new spy organization to be discovered, and with the added resurrection of Colin Firth's character Harry. I honestly hated the idea of bringing Colin Firth's character back this time around because - spoiler alert if you haven't seen the first Kingsman - his return retroactively ruins the crucial emotional impact of his death in the first film. With that being said, his return was handled with more integrity than I expected. His character has the best development by far, as main protagonist Eggsy's development languishes solely in his relationship woes and never really goes anywhere. Julianne Moore's villain is kind of a thematic retread of Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine, but with different eccentricities. Lastly, the Statesman do seem pretty cool initially, but by the end of the film, I did not really feel like any of them besides Pedro Pascal enhanced the film in any way, which sucks considering how many great actors they got to play its members. All in all, if you want more Kingsman and don't mind a general plot remake from the first film you'll probably at least like this film's story enough to get by. It's not quite as interesting of a remade-plot film as something like The Force Awakens was, but it at least keeps up the pace and the action well enough.
The acting presented in the film is pretty good for a comic book film, if nothing spectacular. Julianne Moore, Colin Firth and Pedro Pascal provide the most entertaining performances for their various characters, and they generally carry the scenes that they are in. Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum are pretty underutilized, though I cannot discuss the particular reasons why without delving into spoiler territory. While Taron Edgerton remains a compelling lead as Eggsy, he never really shows much more range than he did in the first film, and his status as the straight man is simply serviceable. The musical guest was also a surprise as his performance was hilarious, and injected some of the film's best moments of humor. The acting hero of the film actually turns out to be Mark Strong, however, as he has a scene in the third act that probably qualifies as one of the best uses of a John Denver song this year, and this year has seen a TON of John Denver usage in film. The performances may be hit or miss, but none are quite bad enough to diminish the film's overall quality.
The technical aspects of the film - specifically the action, camerawork and action editing - continue to be Vaughn's strength. Where he lacks in performing from a cerebral, narrative standpoint, he tends to make up for in physical action and spectacle. Most of the action scenes are stitched together to emulate fast one-take scenes, even though upon close analysis you can tell where the camera cuts happen. Tons of great classic rock is used for its soundtrack, and the way Vaughn directs injects shameless R-rated fun and adrenaline into each scene. Just as the events of the narrative and the character motivations started to become grating and dull, an action scene would happen that would renew my interest in the events onscreen. While the scenes retain the tone of over-the-top and humorous like the first one, the visceral violence that occurs does not feel as impactful as the first film, especially after the reveal of the "alpha gel" substance used responsible for some narrative cop-outs. The action often carries the film when everything else starts to fall apart, and his skill as an action director helps make up for his lack of skill in writing.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle, despite being a fun, R-rated intercontinental romp that remains as ridiculous as it is endearing, is a much more tonally and thematically inconsistent beast than its predecessor. Though I respect Vaughn's skill in directing action, this is where his skills should be more heavily utilized; perhaps his next film would benefit from another screenwriter's touch. At two hours and twenty minutes, and with a lack of consistent character motivations, the film feels like it should have been significantly trimmed and edited. A political subplot goes nowhere, one key actor that is heavily advertised is barely in the film, and there are tons of other tiny, but significant mistakes that add up to make this the biggest hot mess comic book film of the year. If you liked the original film, you'll probably enjoy this, but if you're on the fence, maybe wait until it comes out to rent or stream on VOD. If manners maketh man, then prove your politeness by only seeing this film in theaters if you really can't wait for it.