My sister, originally a fan of the first Kingsman film before me, saw the sequel before me as well. Her reaction upon leaving the cinema was:
I was apprehensive – the first film was absolutely brilliant, mostly because it came out nowhere and was presented without any expectations. Sequels are always risky, but way more so when it is stemming from such an original first film, and it can be a really tricky feat to pull off.
The film picks up in more or less the same place the first ended: with Roxy and Eggsy as new Kingsman agents living the dream as spies. However, when all Kingsman locations are targeted and destroyed. The surviving team has no other choice than to follow their ‘Doomsday’ protocol, which leads to them traveling to America to meet their US counterpart, the Statesmen. Whilst there, a new worldwide threat leads them to work together.
With all the main cast returning, more incredible and iconic ones joining and direction from the same director as the first film, Matthew Vaughn, it is promising on paper. And believe me, it lives up to the high standard of the original.
Taron Egerton returns in lead as Eggsy, the unlikely talent of the Kingsman agency. As always he is brilliant, but he maybe shows even more of a tender side in this one. He’s evolved and matured with his new role, as well as with a relationship and the loss of his mentor. He’s retained his unique personality that makes the protagonist we know and love, but has also taken on more responsibilities and really has transformed into a full on, proper agent.
He’s aided by Merlin, the beloved Kingsman agent who’s basically behind it all. He manages trainee agents, technology, tracking and is forever the man at the computer in the ear of the agent out on the field. I completely and utterly love him, his quiet determination and his commitment to his role and his colleagues. In the absence of Harry, Merlin becomes Eggsy’s mentor in a way without either of them acknowledging or even realising it. Of course, Mark Strong is amazing, and the Kingsman films would not be the same without his presence.
It’s no spoiler – Harry Hart is back. The first film saw him shot in the head by villain Valentine and killed. So to discover that he was back did make me… honestly, roll my eyes a bit. These days killing characters off doesn’t have so much of an impact, because half the time they come back. Case in point: Sherlock, Spock, Gandalf, and don’t even get me started on Supernatural characters. It’s lost it’s power. However, this resurrection is actually pretty decent and well explained, without being ridiculous.
Obviously a bullet to the brain will do some damage. Colin Firth plays two characters in this film; Harry as we know and love, and Harry damaged and recovering, unaware of who he truly is. Colin Firth is heartbreaking in the latter role, lost in a world he isn’t aware he is lost in.
I was so pleasantly surprised to see Princess Tilde return, and as a main character (sort of) too! Hanna Alström has a brilliant comic timing as well as a warming tender side to her that we perhaps didn’t see in her small role in the first film. Alström also excellently walks the line between Swedish royalty and an ordinary woman living in London with her boyfriend. I really love the exploration of her character and I’m so happy she wasn’t just forgotten.
The Statesman – Kingsman’s American cousins! What I really love about this film is how much they hammed up the patriotism. Their weapons are disguised as baseball bats and balls; their code names different alcohols and their life saving parachutes? You guessed it: massive American flags.
Tequila is the first agent we meet over at their whisky brewing headquarters, and has Channing Tatum take the role of a slightly crude, deep southern man who’s good with a gun. Though his character is great, I’m not sure why Tequila is the leading American agent across all the film promotion as he is most definitely not the one with the most significant part or most screen time. It’s probably because Channing Tatum is such a spice.
Ginger Ale is the Statesman’s version of Merlin. She’s the whiz behind all the equipment and information, yet in contrast to Merlin, pines for field work. Halle Berry is really wonderful in this role, making Ginger a multi-faceted, sweet, smart, intimidating and lovable character, as well as a hell of a role model.
The third and final Statesman is Pedro Pascal’s Whisky, a lasso slinging agent with an amount of sass equal to his charm. He’s a bit rude and forward, in the way American’s are stereotypically perceived by us Brits, but he is so, so cool.
They’re all lead by Champ (short for Champagne), played by Jeff Bridges (who again, is barely in it).
But, who else could play the leader of a slightly red-necked spy organisation than Jeff Bridges?
And the villains…
Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine truly meets his match with Julianne Moore’s Poppy Adams. She is brilliant, and I mean really, really brilliant. Her super sweet, gimicky evil is totally horrifying, and watching her smile on whilst getting her followers to complete atrocities is really unnerving, mostly just because of how cool you’re finding her. Poppy has an absolute fixation with the aesthetic of the fifties, and has devoted her life to her hundreds of billions of dollars empire. Julianne Moore said that she based her characterisation of Poppy on Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor performance in the Superman movies from the 1970s – which really tells you a lot about her character.
Also surprising – Charlie’s back. A rejected Kingsman applicant from the first film, he’s your classic emasculated boy who can’t accept his failures and just wants revenge, and so he pulls a totally predictable move and joins the other side. The last time we saw him he was at Valentine’s party where supposedly, everyone died. But he’s back, and with a bionic arm too.
This did make me raise my brows a bit – this makes the second film in a row where the lead villain’s second in command is an amputee. I’m not trying to be overly politically correct here, or pick at points, but I just couldn’t ignore it. It’s not the fact that these people with missing limbs have cool gadgets and weapons to replace them that do give them loads of joy, it’s that in order to be deemed appropriately evil they had to be physically disfigured in some way.
There’s also a small role with Bruce Greenwood as the President of the United States – and a nasty one at that, which surely can’t be coincidental with the real America’s current state of affairs. Emily Watson also appears as his Chief of Staff, also known as my new hero.
Now: Elton John. Obviously I had seen in all the press promotion and posters that he had a role in this film and I was absolutely befuddled on what I could even entail.
I won’t give anything away because I think the brilliance of his role is that all of it is just so completely surprisingly and hilarious and not what you would expect at all. I will say that I think is the best thing he’s ever done in his career and he should be cast in every film from now onwards.
I won’t do an in memoriam section and name who, but there are a lot of character losses in this sequel. While I do understand that this is a spy agency who trains its members to die for the cause, it is tiring and frankly emotionally draining to have all these characters lost and then the story quickly moved on. In all honesty, some of the characters were done wrong with these moves – characters with tons of potential and possibility that were written off sometimes unceremoniously.
Onto the actual story and writing for this sequel. Vaughn’s in the writing chair again, partnered with acclaimed screenwriter Jane Goldman, who also worked the first film.
I’ve heard people criticise The Golden Circle for it’s slow start, but I’m not sure I agree. They really were not messing around with diving headfirst right back into the Kingsman world, with the film opening on an almost immediate car chase through the streets of London with fist fights, gadgets, epic music and stunts shown in slow motion in the first two minutes alone. I thought that although it was kind of done without explanation, it was exactly what the film needed to be welcomed back with a bang.
One scene that does stick out in a bad way perhaps is one between Eggsy and villain Charlie’s girlfriend, as they seduce each other at a music festival. It was an uncomfortable scene intentionally – even Egerton bowed out of shooting it, with Delevigne’s husband taking over. Slight spoiler here, but basically in order to track someone, Statesmen technology requires their spies to insert a tracking device into the targets body. In this film the sexual act was more than consensual, but doing it with an ulterior motive (despite how hesitant Eggsy even was) is a little bit… not nice. I know that sex scenes are kind of a big part of spy movies (thanks James Bond), but I think that’s a bit outdated now. Surely there’s another way to place a tracker? They are advanced spies after all.
Other than that, I think the film is successful at moving along at a fairly good pace, though I think some situations have quick answers that are then moved on from at an almost whiplash speed. One thing that seems unanimous is that the final act is undeniably explosive, and I almost guarantee you will have the biggest grin on your face. I was in a pretty packed screening of the film and I don’t think there was one person in the audience who didn’t crack up at at least one thing which is an excellent sign of a good movie. With it’s signature quirky and sometimes crude sense of humour, the sequel certainly doesn’t lose the edge of the franchise.
I would love to talk about the movie’s addressing of drug use and legalisation, but then this will no longer be a review and go off on a whole new subject. For now, know that I think it’s brilliant that it was a core subject matter and that opposing opinions presented in the film regarding it are really important for people to see.
Quick note on the costumes by Arianne Phillips, who is undeniably the Queen of Hollywood film costuming. She manages to create such distinct styles that demonstrate the personalities of each character so seamlessly (little pun there) and I can never get enough of her work. The stand outs from this film have to be Eggsy’s orange jacket and Poppy’s yellow gingham two piece. In fact, I want every piece of Poppy’s wardrobe to be in my own.
George Richmond returns as cinematographer, and for good reason, because I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Kingsman has created such a distinct way of storytelling, with a lot of that down to the way it’s shot.
As with the last film, the stunts are incredible. For as much as possible, the cast performs their own stunts, with Egerton even performing that jump above the taxi as seen in the trailer. This is especially evident in the fight sequences, which are filmed from peculiar angles with the best moves being shown in slow motion to really emphasis just how cool they are.
One of the reasons these fight scenes work so well is that they’re paired with a killer soundtrack. With the themes and location of this movie there’s a load of brilliant American classics: Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver; Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting) by Elton John; Raining in My Heart by Buddy Holly; Don’t Leave Me This Way by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes to name but a few. But I think the highlight for me might be Let’s Go Crazy by Prince – because obviously.
Overall, despite the little nitpicky things, this film is a worthy successor of the first. It maintains the fresh and exciting style that made the first so enjoyable whilst expanding on storylines, characters and weapon.
It’s not totally perfect, but it’s a hell of an enjoyable experience. I loved it.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in cinemas now.