Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
Composer: Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of those really good action movies that just came out of nowhere. With Colin Firth amongst its cast, no one really expected it to be as violently jaw-dropping as it was, packed with an array of awesome fight sequences, and littered with nods back to the spy films of yesteryear. What set it apart from other recent entries into the genre, with some working and others flopping, was its unique tone. It had the nonsense gadgetry of Get Smart; the serious duels like those seen in a James Bond film; and the ridiculous villainy and humor of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Considering Matthew Vaughn was also the director of the Kick-Ass franchise, it’s no surprise that Kingsman: The Secret Service also featured an edgy, ‘pop violence’ that pushed past politically correct boundaries, with one scene leaving this critic unable to justify or condone.
It was lightning in a bottle. Now that there’s a sequel – can it strike twice? The trailer looks so wonderfully promising, hinting towards an expansion of its universe, and the shocking return of Colin Firth’s character. Yet is there enough in this new cinematic world to keep the story afloat and create one of the newest franchises in the movie business?
Violence/Scary Images: This is a spy movie where there are frequent battles with the enemy. There are multiple gunfights, fistfights, and skirmishes with more fanciful weaponry (lassos and whips with electrical modifications, bombs that freeze people, darts, etc). This film isn’t a gory bloodbath, but it’s still strong with some disturbing events. A man is cauterized in half. A character is torn apart by robotic dogs (it is brief and seen from a distance, but still gruesome). Characters are thrown into a meat grinder, and that meat is then served and eaten. It’s not as gory as one might expect, but it’s still stomach churning. Numerous characters develop a blue rash on their face. Characters fall ill and their eyes burst and bleed. A few people explode after stepping on a landmine. One character is shown with a missing eye.
Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb and s-word are used frequently, at a rate that’s roughly every second minute. God’s name is used in vain a few times. Lesser swear words such a h*ll, d*ck, and pr*ck are scattered throughout the film, though the f-word may actually be used more often. There are one or two jokes about bowel movements.
Drug/Alcohol References: The main plot revolves around a drug cartel and drug users. All major illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroine are mentioned. A character is seen smoking a bong and another is shown smoking a joint. Alcohol such as whiskey is consumed regularly – only once is it consumed to excess and the characters become intoxicated.
Spiritual Content: None.
Sexual Content: There is a scene that revolves around sexual foreplay, however it cuts away and there’s no nudity. A woman is shown in her underwear.
Other Negative Content: People that are high in power are willing to commit to a plan that will result in genocide. There are times when the film offers excuses for illicit drug usage.
Positive Content: This film brings up the subject as to whether drug users are a benefit to society. Thankfully not only does the movie show some of the dangers and foolishness of using drugs for recreational use, it also sends the message that despite people’s bad choices, they are still human and therefore their lives have value. It’s anti-legalism, but it’s also not exactly pro-legalization of drugs either.
If you liked the first one, then you’ll like the second. Matthew Vaughn has once again created a spy movie that’s deliriously fun with its nods to certain tropes in the genre and an over the top taste for violence. There’s a new psychologically unhinged villain with a dastardly plan, a new set of allies, huge stakes, and a whole lot of gimmicky tools that are a blast to see being used out in the field.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle jumps straight into the action, giving the audience a car chase complete with an intense martial arts fight within the first minute. While nothing this year can really compare to John Wick: Chapter 2’s fight choreography, Matthew Vaughn nevertheless directs a piece that’s exciting with its editing and clear with its execution. Naturally, the Kingsman look stylish as ever in their fitted suits while beating down baddies left, right, and center.
The sequel, compared to the first outing, is propped up by an even larger star-studded cast. The standout is still its lead, Taron Egerton. As Eggsy, he delivers a performance that straddles the seriousness of the spy world, while also remaining very human with his emotions and his relationships with the other characters. Eggsy has certainly grown since the first movie and thankfully this sequel doesn’t make the fatal mistake of forcing the protagonist to learn the same lesson all over again; a narrative path that many potentially great films have tragically traveled down. This time Eggsy is rather comfortable as a Kingsman, and his character journey pertains more to the responsibilities he must maintain in his personal life.
Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Jeff Bridges all headline in the trailer, though their parts are more infrequent than one might expect. Out of the all the lasso-wielding, tobacco-spitting Statesman that we’re introduced to, it’s actually Pedro Pascal’s character, Whiskey, that we see the most on screen. He is tremendous fun to watch in the midst of a battle, though his character leaves much to be desired once the bullets have stopped firing. I was honestly expecting more differences between the two spy organizations, and I was disappointed with Kingsman: The Golden Circle that it didn’t become an odd-couple comedy displaying the grating incompatibilities of British and American sensibilities. Yet this is not a reflection on Pedro Pascal’s acting capabilities – everyone in the cast does well with what they have – but rather a critique on the script’s shallow depth when it comes to building its characters.
The main problem is that there’s a lot of reshuffling happening here. The first film did extremely well in introducing the audience to the realm of the Kingsman, to the point where it didn’t leave the sequel much room to explore. So instead of delivering just another caper, Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman seem to have taken a page from John Wick: Chapter 2’s book and decided to expand the universe while they had the chance.
However, this meant that the characters that didn’t serve that particular storyline needed to die while others are resurrected. The creative choices make sense, but for fans, the much-needed switchover might be as rough as the connection between Aliens and the often-maligned Alien 3. It does take a while for the Kingsman to meet the Statesman and to get the plot moving forward once again. Thankfully the opening action sequence gives the audience a good taste as to what’s in store provided they are patient enough to endure some exposition.
So between the superfluous characters from the first film needing to be culled and subsequently grieved, some others requiring a resurrection and recap, the new Statesman organization needing a proper introduction, and the antagonist’s grand plans for world domination, there’s not a great deal of screen time left for any solid character development. The screenplay does reasonably well, though it only can manage a great broad stroke. As the audience, we know just enough to get us by, though each character’s personal story arc is more like half a McDonald’s sign as opposed to St. Louis’ Gateway Arch.
Of course, in order to fit everything in, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has a running time of two hours and twenty-one minutes. That’s a rather long movie. It feels long. It doesn’t need to be as long as it is. Suffice to say, it suffers from a few pacing issues, much like the first movie. It oddly stalls in the middle. It’s partly because the movie is quickly trying to add in some character development, it’s establishing a second ‘call to adventure’ for one of the supporting roles, and also because most of the characters reach their lowest point in the narrative way too early (usually this happens towards the end of the second act).
There’s a lot happening, and some of it may have been fixed by a more hands-on villain. Julianne Moore isn’t as quirky as Samuel L. Jackson, though she is still entertaining and psychotic in her own way. But unlike Valentine, she operates from afar, so her fiendish presence never feels like an imminent threat. An extremely amusing celebrity cameo (though it’s actually quite a large role) maintains this villain’s level of dangerousness. Yet it’s the antagonist’s sidekick which is the real formidable opponent since he interacts with the spy organizations multiple times throughout the course of the film.
That said, the sidekick was also more dangerous and intriguing than Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping Valentine. What really set it apart from other films in the spy genre was the story’s willingness to ignore political correctness. This resulted in a scene where a right-wing Christian hate group is lethally dispatched in a church. This five-minute segment ruined the original film for me. While they were a hate group and shown to be despicable people, not at all representing Christ’s love, it bothered me because it contributed to the notion prominent in the Western world that it was okay to persecute Christians.
It triggered me because our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world actually are suffering horrendously due to religious persecution. Part of the reason their plight is not heard is that the media doesn’t understand the surrounding context. There’s also an apathy from the general public due to the belief that Christians are in the majority and are only complaining about an imaginary enemy, not realizing that the social dynamics are vastly different overseas.
So does the sequel push the boundaries too far once again? Not really. Like the first film, it does contain snarky social criticisms as a core component of the film’s message. This time it’s about the war against drugs and the prejudice against its users. Julianne Moore as Poppy, a major drug supplier that’s capitalizing on the suffering of millions, isn’t the only villain here. The film also snidely remarks on those at the other extreme, where users only have themselves to blame, which ends up being a very heavy-handed and legalistic approach to the issue. Kingsman: The Golden Circle provides an interesting viewpoint thanks to its off-kilter, non-PC tone, though like every other part of the plot, it’s not overly developed.
While the narrative feels bloated and has a few issues with pacing, the other technical aspects of filmmaking are amazing. The costume design is well thought out, with little touches that speak volumes in regards to its symbolism. The set design is sometimes reminiscent of a delightfully colorful Wes Anderson movie. The music is also on point, though the main score sounds a little too similar to the tunes of The Avengers, and sadly the remix present in the trailer does not make an appearance in the film.
In the end, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has to shuffle a lot around in order to get going, unlike its predecessor. However, it does maintain the vibe and wonderfully quirky tone as the first film. While the plot is more on the shallower side, there’s still a great deal of fun to be had here, with some action sequences worth the admission price alone. It may stall in the middle, but with some patience, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a widely entertaining ride with a snide social commentary to boot. If you love this genre, then this is definitely worth seeing. It can still be understood without having seen its predecessor, though obviously watching the first movie will only increase your enjoyment.
+ Action sequences. + Snarky social commentary. + Taron Egerton. + Technical filmmaking aspects. + Christians aren't horrifically murdered in this one!
- It feels long. - There's so much ground to cover that no aspect of the plot can be explored deeply. - The film stalls in the middle; takes a while to get going. - The first film had the better villain.
The Bottom Line
The story contains a complex adventure that does its best to stay afloat, though it comes at the expense of deeper character development. Despite its flaws with the pacing, it’s still a highly enjoyable movie that’s comparable in entertainment value with a Marvel outing. It still maintains the wildly fun tone of the original, along with a few beloved characters, while simultaneously broadening its own universe. A must see for fans of the spy genre.