Kingsman: The Secret Service was arguably the most pleasant surprise in film for the year 2014. It was a film that capitalized on a nostalgia for the over-the-top camp prevalent in the spy films of the 70s and 80s while also modernizing them for today’s audience. It did for the Roger Moore era James Bond what Casino Royale did for James Bond in general. By giving us heroes and villains with realistic motivations and plot devices that paid off in droves by film’s end alongside action sequences ripped straight from the most bombastic of kung fu movies and cool gadgets that would only be ruined if they were explained in any way we saw a movie that knew exactly where to be smart and where to be dumb to make a roller coaster ride that had honest stakes. When it made 414 million dollars from an 81 million dollar budget and only increased its following from there with incredible word of mouth, it was inevitable a sequel would be made. Say hello to Kingsman: The Golden Circle written and directed by Matthew Vaughn just as the first film was.
It’s less than a minute before we are treated to the frenetic action and comic book gadgets of the first film, but moreso. The combination car chase, fist fight, and gun fight shows off more spectacle than anything in Kingsman: The Secret Service, so it seems that we are about to get the creative adrenaline fueled film we were hoping for. But, this leads us to the film’s first problem. While it does have a lot of action scenes, all of them way over-the-top in the stunts and special effects departments, more action does not mean better when the scenes aren’t terribly well thought out. Most of the action scenes come from an overly contrived situation or they involve actions taken by people that make no sense given the context of the scene around them.
One area which was very smart in Secret Service is also excellent in The Golden Circle, and that’s the motivations of its villains. In the first film we were given a villain who saw himself as the hero, or perhaps the anti-hero, doing a job that needed to be done even if it was distasteful. Here, Julianne Moore as Poppy gives us a villain who knows she is one, but feels it’s unfair that the world considers her one and comes up with a grand scheme to make herself socially acceptable. It’s a pretty fantastic motivation for a villain not quite like anything I’d seen before but still makes a lot of sense. Add to that the reaction of the government of the United States to Poppy’s plot, and you have a really true to life reaction to an incredibly unbelievable situation. There is a problem in the plot in that the scheme affects the entire world but only the reaction of the United States seems to matter, and this in a movie that focuses on a British Spy Agency and features a Swedish Princess, but for the most part the forces that drive the plot are quite intelligent and allow for real social commentary.
The rest of the writing, though, does not share this same intelligence. The beats of the storyline feature manufactured drama after manufactured drama. If a simple solution to a problem is apparent, you can be guaranteed that those involved will choose the most convoluted, illogical course of action nearly every time. Kingsman: The Golden Circle relies on easily settled misunderstandings and epicly idiotic planning on the parts of its characters to work, and this very much soils the intelligence put into its overall premise. Add to that that the opportunity for social commentary is largely wasted, and you have a script which is no where near the level fans of the first film were hoping for.
The music in the original Kingsman subtly added quite a bit to its combination retro and modern feel by giving us a mainly orchestral score very. and purposely, reminiscent of a James Bond film, so that when “Freebird” suddenly comes in to the forefront in the infamous church scene it’s an adrenal shock to the system which adds an incredible amount to an already bonkers scene. The Golden Circle does away almost entirely with the orchestral score and gives us action scenes set to Prince, and ZZ Top, and covers of classic rock songs done in different styles, and therefore ruins the juxtaposition of styles which added so much the original film and made for yet another Guardians of the Galaxy clone where the music is concerned, which was fun for a while and was shown it can still work in Baby Driver and Atomic Blonde, but this is a styling that is starting to wear very thin.
The performances here are on a par with the first film for the most part, though Julianne Moore’s villain has nowhere near the opportunities to shine that Samuel L. Jackson’s did and giving Elton John such a large role in the film in which he plays himself did not work for me, which is okay. The Kingsman isn’t a showcase for acting, so we don’t really need more than okay in my opinion, though it would have been nice if someone could have given us at least a creatively thought out character like Samuel L. Jackson and Sofia Boutella did in the original, seeing the workmanlike but otherwise unspectacular performances here showed my just how much life those two brought to the first Kingsman.
The cinematography is another high point of the film, with shots that are both good looking and practical at the same time, and while CGI is in obviously constant use it flows fairly seamlessly for the most part, though there are a handful of exceptions to this. Even if the plot is dipping into one of its more stupid bits or the pacing of a given scene is leaving you bored or overstimulated you at least know that whatever’s in front of you will be great looking.
Final verdict: Fans of the original Kingsman: The Secret Service will almost certainly leave Kingsman: The Golden Circle disappointed. The script is sloppier, the nostalgic James Bond feel nearly non-existent, and the plot holes are on larger than life display. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to love here, though. The over-the-top action is still incredibly fun to watch and the comic booky spy trappings are still creative and fun. Most Kingsman fans could probably wait until this is rentable to see the movie, or even better catch a cheap matinee if possible, but if you are more into the movies for the stunts and special effects more than for story, Kingsman: The Golden Circle should scratch the over-the-top spy flick itch nicely.