Back in 2015, when I watched the original Kingsman: The Secret Service, I found a number of things to like, despite finding the story too faintly ludicrious, and, frankly, poorly written. I greatly enjoyed the performances of both Colin Firth and then-newcomer Taron Egerton, and mostly liked Matthew Vaughn’s direction, whose style seems like a cruder version of Guy Ritchie’s. The script, by both Vaughn and Jane Goldman failed to engage me on most of its plot points, though. This time around, Vaughn and Goldman return with a sequel, subtitled The Golden Circle, and I ran out of patience from the first scene. This is one of the worst sequels I’ve ever sat through.
Maybe this is a factor, maybe not, but at the time of watching this sorry mess (September 2017), I am in the middle of selling our home and buying a new one, and each day brings us closer to the end of the saga. As of yesterday, I was still feeling the stress of the whole situation, so maybe the timing was bad, but I think I remained impartial. The Golden Circle is a dud from the start, and I felt that immediately from the first scene, which, even though it’s directed by Vaughn in his normal hyperkinetic style, is mostly just one long, ridiculous car chase through the streets of London. It’s over the top, but not in a thrilling way – imagine sitting on the couch watching someone play a video game, and this is pretty close to what I felt watching this scene unfold. The taxi in which “Eggsy” (Taron Egerton) is being attacked is chased by three other cars, driven by anonymous goons, and shot at by high powered automatic fire. The cars swerve in and out of busy London traffic, but there’s no sense of reality to the scene. No pedestrians or drivers ever appear to be in any danger whatsoever, indeed the lack of reaction shots and impacts make it seem as the cars chasing each other are ghosts, unable to harm the physical world.
This isn’t the biggest problem the movie has, though – in fact it’s the least of them, but it happens so early in the movie that I was completely turned off to the rest of it. The kindest thing I can say about it, is that I still enjoy Vaughn’s super-stylized signature action directing style. I love the choreography and the cinematography, and while it’s probably used to excess here, it’s by far the only thing in the movie worth watching, because the main elements that made The Secret Service watchable, are not here.
The plot of the movie was stupid – Samuel L Jackson’s horrendous tech mogul Bond Villain Parody, Richmond Valentine, planned to kill most of the world’s mobile device users to thin out the human race so those who watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians would never inherit the Earth. Or something like that. This time around, an even sillier villain, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), has an even stupider plan: as one of the world’s biggest drug dealers, she’s laced her many drugs with a virus that will eventually kill their global users. She’ll deliver the antidote if the US President calls off the War On Drugs so she can be seen as a legitimate business leader. Yep, that’s it. In a straight Bond movie you might get a decent plot and villain out of this motivation, but not so in The Golden Circle. Moore’s villain is so humiliatingly cartoonish (her lair is a clearing in some South American rainforest in which is basically a kind of “1950’s Island” from Disneyland, where her goons all dress in Letterman jackets. It’s like Back To The Future’s 1955 minus … well, everything. Moore’s Poppy Adams is nothing but a straight-up caricature that, like Jackson’s Valentine, resembles nothing like an actual human being, and her plan is utterly laughable, but in a mean, and mocking sense. This kind of movie isn’t a “message” movie by any means, but not trying to add layers to your script is the work of a hack writer. In showing the President’s top aide to be infected, the movie is saying that drug users are far more common than the poor creatures you see huddled on the streets, but it’s done so simplistically, so basically, that it’s shameful that an adult would be responsible for writing like this. This is the kind of movie Jane Goldman wants to be remembered for?
In the sequel, the fully realized Eggsy is now a top Kingsman agent, in a relationship with a Scandanavian princess, and when an attack destroys most of the Kingsmen, it now falls to Eggsy to stop Adams’s nefarious plan. In order to do this, he and Merlin (the franchise’s version of Q, played by Mark Strong) travel to the US to team up with their version of The Kingsmen: The Statesmen, played as little more than cameos by Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Pedro Pascal. If you wonder why The Statesmen and Merlin (being the super tech genius) weren’t also targeted (he wasn’t home at the time, and The Statesmen … well, that’s anyone’s guess), you get a sense of the sheer incompetence on display in the writing. The Statesmen plot points are embarrassingly written. It felt like I was watching something written by a 12 year old competition entrant, it’s that bad. Of the Americans in the movie, the least expensive actor, Pedro Pascal (you’ll remember him as the tragic, noble Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones season 4) gets the most screen time, as some bullwhip-wielding cowboy type, and when you learn his motivation towards the end I hope you’ll be as stunned as I was – not because it’s so well written, however. This is what passes for characterisation in Goldman’s world?
And what of the stuff that made The Secret Service a decent watch? All gone. The charm exuded by Egerton has been replaced with a seen-it-all-before smugness. Here, the only thing to overcome is the plot, whereas the fun of the first movie was seeing Eggsy grow into his role as a toff, as well as an action hero. In The Golden Circle, he’s already got the culture thing down, and his only ties to his old life (old?! the movie takes place only 1 year after the first movie!) are some barely sketched in childhood friends that only really serve as basic comedy relief (in a movie that’s already meant to be a comedy?), and as a tie-in to the archplot. Colin Firth returns as Galahad, and like Egerton, was one of the things that made The Secret Service work. In this movie, he’s simply hitting the repeat button on his performance, and it comes off as a bored cash grab.
But while Egerton and Firth are not terrible, Moore most certainly is. This is not a movie that’s going to make her proud. It’s not a movie that her friends are going to tell her was at least “fun”. No, it’s a profoundly embarrassing performance, and I’m sure she knew it throughout the production. When I see an actor take on this kind of role, it makes me respect them a lot less. She barely even shows up to say the kind of crap Goldman has put in her mouth, and her performance is of the we-filmed-around-the-two-days-she-was-available kind. Cash that cheque, Julliane, then forget all about it, if you can.
But the absolute worst thing about the movie? Elton John’s extended cameo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a horrible celebrity cameo in a movie as this one. If he didn’t know he was going to come off so badly before he signed on the line that is dotted, he’d surely have known it during filming. It’s so bad I can barely describe it, but I’ll try: including Elton John as the celebrity that Poppy Adams captured to play his greatest hits in her empty rainforest retro music theater, the movie shows its true hand. It’s not really a sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service after all, it’s actually Austin Powers 4: For No-Brains Only.
© Andrew Hope, 2017