When Kingsman: The Secret Service opened in 2015, it was a resounding success both critically and commercially, so a sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s spy flick was always a foregone conclusion.
Carrying on a year after the evens of Kingsman: The Secret Service, this film jumps in on the destruction of the Kingsman headquarters and agents (minus protagonist Eggsy, now boyfriend of the Swedish Crown Princess, and technician Merlin, owner of bone-dry wit and a terrific Scottish accent). The duo are forced to track down the elusive US brother association, Statesman, in order to take down the culprits (including Charlie Hesketh, “posh boy turned chav” who failed to become a Kingsman agent in the last movie).
It may seem that by destroying the majority of its predecessor’s characters, the producers were attempting to wipe the slate clean for a fresh, new film. This isn’t entirely true; The Golden Circle isn’t quite a re-hash of The Secret Service, but it still brings back enough key characters and tropes to retain its status as a sequel rather than a spin-off.
A Fighting Chance
The first Kingsman film made itself known for its incredible cinematography, as seen in the eponymous church massacre scene. The visuals of its sequel are equally impressive, with a monumental series of mad sets (including Kingsman’s new headquarters below Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake, a fifties Americana-style complex in the centre of the jungle, and a distillery more Kentuckian than Billy Ray Cyrus necking Bourbon).
The special effects department have also gone to town on the CGI, with Charlie’s robotic arm and a car chase through London featuring an edge-of-the-seat fistfight inside a battered taxi. Which brings us to one of Kingsman’s main selling points: the ability to create a damn good fight scene.
Choreographing the ubiquitous brawls must have cost the production team a pretty penny: no fewer than 71 stunt doubles and co-ordinators were credited on IMDB. Undoubtedly, the cost of such impeccable choreography is well worth it, since audiences have revelled in the gory, smart and often mind-boggling action sequences.
The acting is all-round fabulous, even when there are fewer character journeys to be undergone.
Julianne Moore drips with saccharine evil, and is no less ridiculous than Samuel L Jackson’s villain in the last movie. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are, as ever, gems. And, of course, two and a half hours with Taron Egerton and Channing Tatum (in tailored suits, no less) never goes amiss.
Dan Jolin, writing for Empire, labelled The Golden Circle ‘as ultraviolent as the first film, and as ultrasmutty’. Even the most laissez-faire liberal would agree, with the film seemingly attempting to use sex to remind us of its relevance and youth appeal. Arguably, said tactics do have the desired effect.
I will spare you the plot details of Poppy Delevingne’s cameo (the keywords are ‘Glastonbury’, ‘tracking device’, ‘condom’, and ‘lingerie’), but put in perspective it is actually very entertaining. Her role, which wittily mocks the blue-blood-Brit cliché she largely embodies, is overshadowed only by an appearance from Sir Elton Hercules John, CBE. Yes, Elton John agreed to be in this movie. Yes, he dons feathers, sequins, and some rather funky eyewear. And yes, he is responsible for saving Colin Firth from a hideous death.
It would be nice to label John as the film’s unsung hero (pun intended), but his somewhat unanticipated contribution has drawn much public attention. The Guardian dubbed his role as mere ‘headline-baiting hot air‘, but in truth he adds a lot of comedic appeal to a fairly violent film, and elicited more than a few indulgent audience laughs. Numerous references to John’s body of work appear in set locations and pet titles too, but this is hardly surprising; if you’re going to get a cameo from a cultural icon, you may as well make the most of it.
And the famous faces are almost as startling as the storyline. An evil philanthropist using microchips to combat overpopulation, à la Kingsman: The Secret Service? Meh. Vaguely interesting; Dan Brown’s Inferno did it better. But trying to end the war on drugs via psychopathic manipulation and mass poisoning? It’s not exactly a plausible plot, but it’s certainly a relevant theme for Kingsman’s intended audience. The inclusion of the UK vs US cultural differences are also an audience hit, as the common cinema trope teeters on just the right side of shameless stereotyping.
Part of The Golden Circle’s attraction is the fact that it’s a slightly stupid film that’s great fun to watch, and that it doesn’t pretend to be anything more. It isn’t marketed as an edgier James Bond, because, somehow, it manages to be so much more than that. There is an irreverence about the film which allows it to grab the spy genre and do whatever the hell it wants with it, producing a pretty good story along the way.
Words by Annabelle Fuller