Saturday, March 10, 2018

Kingsman: The Golden Circle. A Review


As I look back on Kingsman: The Secret Service, the more I sour on it.  At the time, I felt almost pushed to love it, and while it was good something about the whole project did not sit well with me.  It wasn't just the anal sex joke. 

Now, with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, director Matthew Vaughn has decided to double-down on what he thinks this impending franchise needs: more vulgarity, more violence, more more. It's ironic therefore that the more we get the less we ultimately receive.

Galahad aka Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is still with the Kingsman and thrust into new dangers (the film opens with one of many action pieces).  Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcraft), a rejected Kingsman, tries to kill Eggsy with among other things, his mechanical arm: was that a shout-out to Tee-Hee from Live and Let Die?  Eggsy survives to fight another day, but he's got more important things to deal with, like a birthday party with his working-class friends and his growing relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), Crown Princess of Sweden, who apparently likes to take it up the ass if the last movie was any indication.

Ah, those wacky Swedes!

Unfortunately, Charlie's claw survived and is now inside Kingsman HQ, where it helps our villain launch weapons to destroy every Kingsman facility with every Kingsman in it.  That means one of Eggsy's friends, house-sitting while he is meeting Their Majesties the King and Queen of Sweden, along with Eggsy's dog is blown up, as is the Kingsman Tailor Shop.  Only Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong), whose home address was not listed in Kingsman databases, survive.

Doomsday Protocols eventually lead the surviving Kingsmen to Kentucky, where they eventually succeed in convincing their American counterparts, the Statesman, that they are legit.  The Statesman are into whiskey as the Kingsman are into Arthurian legend: their codenames include Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and their head, Champagne or Champ (Jeff Bridges).  Merlin teams up with his American counterpart, Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), and he and Eggsy make a 'shocking' discovery.

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Rather than be dead, the original Galahad/Harry (Colin Firth) survived having his head blown off thanks to the Statesman, losing an eye and his memory.  Harry, for his part, thinks he is a butterfly expert, which was his goal before joining Kingsman.

Now, in the midst of all this we have our mad villain, the peppy Poppy (Julianne Moore), a Drug Queen hiding out in the jungles of darkest Cambodia that she's turned into a weird 1950's homage.  Her wild scheme involves lacing illicit drugs that will give people blue rashes, before they slip into excessive movements, then paralysis, and ultimately death.  She has an antidote, but there's a catch: drugs must be legalized and she given complete immunity before she releases it.

The President (Bruce Greenwood) appears to give in to her demands, but actually plans to double-cross her.  As far as he's concerned, it's a win-win for him: these scum drop dead and Poppy loses her empire.  Not even the fact that one of his top aides, Fox (Emily Watson) is herself a recreational drug user and has been poisoned, changes his mind.

Tequila too is affected by the drugs, as is apparently Elton John, whom Poppy has kidnapped as is forcing to perform for her in his old costumes.  Eggsy, with a befuddled Harry and Whiskey, now gallivant the world in a mad race to stop both Poppy and the President.  If that means Eggsy has to insert his finger into Charlie's ex-girlfriend's vagina to implant a device, so be it.  If it means running the risk of Princess Tilde herself dying, well, that can't happen.  If it means Harry shooting Whiskey in the head because he thinks Whiskey is a mole, so be it.

It all ends in Poppy-Land, Poppy's hideout, where Merlin sacrifices himself to help Eggsy and Galahad stop our mad Drug Overlord and save the world.

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I think it was one of Sir Elton John's inspirations, Liberace, who once said, "Too much of something is wonderful".  Obviously, Mr. Showmanship never saw Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman didn't know where and when to stop.  At a punishing two hours and twenty-one minutes, The Golden Circle is excessively long.

There is so much that could have been cut from the bloated, self-indulgent, smug film that is clearly in love with itself and its own conventions.  The dinner scene with the Swedish Royal Family, where Eggsy took a cue from an I Love Lucy episode by having information fed to him by fellow Kingsman Roxy (Sophie Cookson), could have been eliminated.  The nearly endless scenes of Harry failing to get his memory could have been cut.  Channing Tatum's entire role could have been removed without affecting anything, as Pascal's Whiskey could have done it all and made the 'mole' story make sense. Elton John: Action Star could have been toned down, though to be fair some of it was funny.

Those are the nice bits that could have been cut.

Seeing two men turned into literal mincemeat was simply grotesque.  Hearing Prince's Let's Go Crazy 'accidentally' play in our opening fight was too much on the nose (though to be fair, the country version of Word Up was good).  The almost incessant action scenes could have also been fewer.

Probably the most grotesque and obscene bit was the fingering of Charlie's ex.  It's as if Vaughn, Goldman, and everyone involved in The Golden Circle decided anal sex wasn't enough for this hoped-for franchise.  Now we have to be as graphic about another sex act as possible. The fact that is basically celebrates this fingering, down to playing strong music here, and stretching out this Glastonbury Festival sequence, signals that the Kingsman series has one audience: parody of teen boys and those who think like them, for whom video games are a reference point.

We see that there were no real performances.  Bridges has pretty much given the same performance since Crazy Heart, and here, he's no different than he was in R.I.P.D., Seventh Son, True Grit, Hell or High Water, or TRON: Legacy.  It's beyond lazy to just sad and embarrassing.  Firth spends most of the movie in a muddled state, character and actor.  Moore, who coincidentally costarred with Bridges in Seventh Son, is all faux pep, which I figure is perfect for the role of this camp villain.

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The Statesman do no better, as it appears every one of them save Berry is directed to be a parody of a cowboy or Southerner and are a collection of morons to boot.  Worse is Pascal, whose character development is just speaking with a twang and pulling out his lasso.

As a side note, how Harry made the leap to think Whiskey was the double agent is something I wasn't clear on, but true cleverness would have been for Harry to find out he was wrong.

Berry hopefully got paid well to stare at screens.  Egerton was fine, going along with making a name for himself but serving as nothing more than a machine to say 'f***' on a Wolf of Wall Street level; for my money The Golden Circle is a waste of his actual talents. Only Strong really emerged from this well, thought I hope his rendition of Country Roads does not showcase his actual singing voice.

The movie stretches so much beyond its bloated running time and sensory overload.  It stretches logic in how much of a wild coincidence it was that Eggsy's friend would find his secret lair right before getting blown up.  It stretches logic in how neither the Kingsman or the Statesman were aware of the other's existence, let alone ever cooperated.  It stretches logic in how Harry is brought back, especially since he is of no great use.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was a lot to sit through, and while you could see the James Bond shout-outs (the mountain lair reminding me of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Charlie's arm reminding me of Live and Let Die), and with some good moments, it was actually pretty depressing to experience.  It will appeal to teen boys and those that think like them with the excessive violence, vulgarities unleashed and overall crudeness. 

It's the sequel made because the first one made money, not because we were so enthralled with Eggsy and Company.  One can hope that the circle has closed.


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