Kingsman: The Golden Circle is, like its predecessor Kingsman: The Secret Service, a violence-obsessed take on the James Bond formula. In the same Bond vein, the plot revolves around a megalomaniac’s scheme to decimate the world population and the spies who follow the convoluted path to stop the evil plan in time.
The evil plan involves the chipper and sociopathic leader of a drug cartel (Julianne Moore) whose latest batch of drugs infects its users with a lethal disease.
The plot of the film also puts in work to expand on some of its central characters. It does this fairly successfully, especially in the progression of protagonist Eggsy (Taron Egerton). This sequel develops what was thematically introduced in The Secret Service, and that is Eggsy’s movement into adulthood. While his relationship with a Swedish princess (Hanna Alstrom) falls away from the film, it is a subplot that provides a decent effort to expand on his maturity.
Other new characters, however, do not receive adequate time to make their backstories feel real and believable. The film tries to convince us that the defining moment for Halle Berry’s character is warranted, when the moment was set up in one passing line. The same goes for another character’s backstory, which is introduced far too late given that it is the motivation for a drastic character change.
The narrative falls apart in this regard and others. Plot holes and conveniences big and small are not surprising from a film like this, whose major aim is to be a popcorn movie, but some of them take the viewer out of the film in unforgiving ways.
In multiple cases, these plot failings come with Colin Firth’s Harry, who serves as the mentor figure to Eggsy. His introduction into the film, for one, is played as a reveal to the audience, but in the film the suspenseful reveal makes no sense. In fact, the scene itself, involving Channing Tatum’s Agent Tequila interrogating Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) when they infiltrate Tequila’s Statesmen, an American correlate to the Kingsman, is a throwaway scene with little character motivation.
Harry has suffered from partial retrograde amnesia. What this allows for is comic relief in which his skills as a spy are not up to par to what they were in the first film. Indeed, we get an unnecessary scene that directly alludes to a similar scene in the first film. But Harry’s return to form is never made an arc; he merely regains his skills when it is convenient for the film to do so. This concept also leads to a specific, pivotal action by Harry that, when thought about for more than a second, is an entirely irrational action.
Of course, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not a film demanding to be broken down. It is a film demanded to be enjoyed for its action set pieces. These set pieces are handled fine, if not overly loud and fast. When the plot begins threading holes, however, it does get in the way of the set pieces, thereby hampering the enjoyment of the film.
The Kingsman sequel is also attempting at something more than the first film does, and that is heart. The film asks us to care about these characters who poke cheeky fun while they slaughter countless faceless people. While this isn’t in itself problematic for an action comedy, what the film does to prop up the emotional centers of its characters takes away from what the film’s goal appears to be.
Strong receives a scene late in the film that works surprisingly well in terms of heart, mainly this is a result of Strong’s performance. But we are asked to feel something about certain fallen characters when the series has not put in enough work to make us truly care about them in the first place.
What results is a film that wants to be two things at once. It wants to be the crass, balls-to-the-wall action film with plenty of violence and crude humor. It also wants to be a film that makes steps toward a franchise in which these characters become figures that we care about and root for.
In The Golden Circle these two aims don’t mix. It is hard to weep for those who are caught in the crossfire when the Kingsmen headquarters is attacked and then laugh at the wildly questionable (not to mention unnecessary) seduction scene that occurs not an hour later.
Then there are the simply baffling bits of franchise world-building. One character is the final image we see, walking down a London street as a clear way of setting up that character’s importance in future films. This character, however, has only really received 10 or so minutes of screentime. And we are meant to be excited about the character’s stake in a future movie?
The film also contains confusing, potentially contradictory thematic material that attempts to be socially relevant. The evil plot of the film (evil in this film stems from both the criminal and their target: The United States government) involves commentary on drug laws and the war on drugs. The decriminalization of drugs philosophy squares off against the hard-line, tough on crime crackdown of criminal offenders.
None of these scenes, involving Bruce Greenwood as the President of the United States and, seemingly, a stand in for Donald Trump, feel in place in this film. It is a forced timely narrative that never makes a clear point about where the writers of the film stand on the issue. As such, it is an empty argument within the film in which two straw men face off against each other. This fits the extreme nature of the film, in which everything is amped up for the sake of tone, but it does not fit in thematically at all. If nothing else, it is a cloying attempt at getting audiences on its side while never committing to a stance.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle lives in the same intriguing world of its predecessor, toying with the James Bond formula in ways that can yield fun action sequences. That this sequel also attempts to build a franchise of its own, full of characters that resonate with us emotionally, is where it falters. It is an ambitious attempt, perhaps, given how willing the film is to rid itself of characters while frantically introducing replacements, but it is not tonally in line with the bombastic sequences of action.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle: C
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)