If Adam Sandler ever did a remake of Die Another Day, it would probably look something like Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Director Matthew Vaughn’s comedy-action-spy sequel follows the lead of its dumb, loud, and tonally awkward predecessor by being dumber, louder, and even more tonally awkward. You could call it cinematic ‘comfort food’ if your idea of comfort is sitting naked on a ripped and jagged vinyl sofa. It’s also a sophomoric, mean-spirited snooze-fest that traffics in nauseating sentimentality. Oh, and it looks surprisingly cheap.
Other than those minor details, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a guaranteed crowd pleaser.
Warning: The following review is likely to contain spoilers. Of course, if you expect surprises from insipid drivel like The Kingsman franchise, you’ll probably be shocked to find the sun outside your window again tomorrow morning.
The origin of this disaster, like most films these days, sprouts from a comic book. The 2012 comic from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons follows the adventures of a dapper super spy, codename: Galahad (Colin Firth), and his brash young nephew, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). Brought to the screen by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, 2011, Kick-Ass, 2012) in 2014, this hyper-kinetic adaptation still can’t decide if it’s a lighthearted spoof of the Bond films it obviously loves, or a smug and ironic takedown of espionage thrillers. It splits the difference with predictably disastrous consequences.
This time around, Eggsy and his Quartermaster, Merlin (Mark Strong), tangle with an old nemesis (Edward Holcroft as ‘Charlie’) and Ms. Poppy (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin who wants to be taken seriously as a businesswoman. They must also collaborate with their American espionage counterparts, the Statesman. Long ago, the Kingsman and Statesman began as one entity, but the European branch diversified into fine clothing while the Americans moved to Kentucky and started making booze. Yeah, it makes no sense, but it’s a convenient excuse for people to fight with bullwhips and sing John Denver songs. In fact, it’s the second movie this summer (Logan Lucky) to co-star Channing Tatum and feature Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.
Things immediately get loud and stupid, as the opening sequence finds Eggsy and a metal-armed Charlie kung-fu fighting in the backseat of a car. It’s your basic CGI nightmare, with the combatants fighting inside, outside, and behind the car during a high-speed chase. Vaughn and his effects team make no attempt to disguise the artificiality of the special effects, which look like the amateurish aftermath of a drunken videogame bender. Considering this scene sets the special effects standard for the entire film, one can only assume it was a stylistic choice to look this cartoonish.
If the look of the film abandons realism, the script abandons competence and logic. Multiple story threads compete for attention like bratty children. Eggsy and his aristocratic girlfriend, Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), struggle to maintain a relationship, while Galahad suffers from a case of retrograde amnesia after being shot in the face. Galahad’s story is particularly insulting, as this once aspiring lepidopterist (he really digs butterflies) reverts back to a childlike state, literally seeing butterflies dancing before his eyes.
Combine these subplots with Ms. Poppy’s asinine scheme to infect the world with a lethal strain of drugs (which prompt dancing and paralysis prior to death) and you have a script that’s cluttered beyond comprehension. Vaughn is so busy trying to explain what’s going on, in fact, that most of the film’s action sequences are frantically shoehorned into the calamitous final act.
Speaking of calamities…
Elton John is in this movie. Yes, the Elton John has been captured and forced to perform at Ms. Poppy’s jungle compound, Poppyland. This is a desperate, Sandler-esque device (“Look! It’s Elton John! Isn’t that hilarious!!”) that would barely warrant a mention were it not for Elton’s frequent appearances. Yes, this isn’t merely a cameo appearance; ‘The Bitch’ comes back… again and again. One particularly terrible scene finds Sir Elton using a bowling ball to bludgeon a mechanical dog. There is no part of that sentence that shouldn’t instill dread and sadness in your soul.
The haphazard mix of camp, gore, and sentimentality effectively crushes the possibility of any forward momentum. A single scene might combine outrageous, gravity-defying gadgets with the gruesome spectacle of someone going face-first into a giant meat grinder, only to conclude with a heartfelt moment of male bonding or selfless sacrifice. It’s a tonal rollercoaster that leaves you wondering if you should be laughing, cringing, or crying. Mostly, you just sit there stone-faced, wondering why this movie is over two hours long and how Elton John can do jump kicks in platform shoes.
Thematically, too, this film is a complete clunker. Whereas, Kingsman: The Secret Service followed the impetuous Eggsy as he matured into a reliable field operative, the sequel seems determined to undermine all of his progress with juvenile ideas about heroism and duty. One mission requires him to put a condom-shaped tracking device in the vagina of Charlie’s girlfriend. Sadly, the film reaches the apex of its emotional maturity when Eggsy dutifully calls Princess Tilde and informs her that he’s about to “fuck a target”. Quite a catch you’ve got there, Princess!
Our prize for enduring the skull splitting noise, ridiculous plot twists, and shameless product placement (including one scene in which Julianne Moore resembles a walking Coke can) is a final act that disintegrates into mind-numbingly dull action sequences filmed according to the Zack Snyder playbook. The camera zooms, twirls, stops/starts, and does everything else in its power to distract from the fact that nothing fun is actually happening. Kingsman: The Golden Circle should definitely be this franchise’s final mission.