Sunday 24 September 2017

Kingsman - The Golden Circle


Kingsman - The Golden Circle
UK/USA 2017 Directed by Matthew Vaughn
UK cinema release print.

Disclaimer: The only real spoilers you will see in here can all be easily gleaned from the trailer. However, if you haven’t seen the trailer then I would urge you to go in blind.

So the time is already upon us when we get the first and, possibly, not the last sequel to Kingsman - The Secret Service, a film which I loved and reviewed here. Now, it has to be said that I was was really not looking forward to a sequel to that first movie because, while Taron Egerton as Eggsy and Mark Strong as Merlin were bound to be back for the next one, I thought that Colin Firth’s stand out role of Galahad (aka Harry Hart) was an important ingredient in making the whole thing work. Well Vaughn and co-writer, the often quite wonderful Jane Goldman, obviously thought so too because they managed to find a way to bring Firth’s character back which, while utterly implausible in real life, doesn’t really stretch the credibility of the hyper-real world of the ‘Kingsman universe’ too much and... a little more on that later. That being said, I have seen a lot of negative comments about the film being either dull or unwatchable from several quarters on Twitter and the like over the last couple of weeks so... yeah... I wasn’t exactly holding my breath to wait and see this one.

However, as it happens, it’s my firm belief that the bad criticism I’ve heard of it is, for me at least, quite wrong. Not only does Kingsman - The Golden Circle live up to and honour the spirit of the original movie, it also builds on that world fairly successfully and, to boot, is another fun ride. It’s quite true that it isn’t quite near as good as the first one but, honestly, that would be a pretty tall task. However, what the cast and crew have delivered here is a solid, action comedy super-spy thriller which, although I’m sure it completely strays from the comic book source as much or, posssibly, even more than the original movie did, is a nice slice of cinematic spectacle and, I would have thought, a bit of a crowd pleaser. There are, it has to be said, quite a lot of what I would call minor problems with it but, ultimately, these don’t add up to a significant movie killer and the film coasts along quite nicely with, as the first one, a real feeling of empathy and good will conjured up for the main protagonists to succeed in their mission.

Okay so, the three cast I’ve mentioned above are supported by a very strong, somewhat misused in cases, cast which boasts several big names. Julianne Moore is excellent as Poppy, this film’s super-villain, although I believe she is written quite badly and it does hurt the film a little, I think, that Eggsy and Harry don’t actually get to meet or interact with her until their final confrontation scene. So, excellent as she always is, she does tend to feel like she’s been plonked into the film in a corner to just cut back to every now and again in an effort to remind us that there is an evil mastermind making all these things happen in the film. Which is a shame.

Similarly, Channing Tatum is in this but you’d barely know it. His role is quite small and, although he stays the course of the film, the plot line treats him as just an example of how deadly the super-villain’s plan is... like he’s an egg timer so you know how crucial the mission is getting. Jeff Bridges is similarly wasted as the boss of Statesman, the US counterpart to Kingsman and Halle Berry is also not given much to do as the US version of Mark Strong’s Merlin character. I was surprised to see an excellent singer, Tara Hugo, in a little cameo as a bar maid. I don’t know much about her or even, to be honest, that she was also an actress but she brought out a truly great album of Philip Glass songs a year or two ago which is worth giving a listen to. And talking of singers, I was similarly caught unawares to see that Elton John has such a large and crucial part in the story. He’s like ‘the cameo that never goes away’ and he has some nice little moments during the course of the film. There are quite a few more ‘name’ actors putting in appearances in this one but if I list them all I’d be here all day and this would be the longest, scroll hungry review ever... so I won’t.

These people are all good, of course but, it was the surprise reappearance of a number of characters and actors from the first film which really helped pull this one together. A couple of main players are back but I don’t want to spoil the surprise if you haven’t seen this one yet. That being said, as in the first movie, the writers are not afraid to kill off well loved characters and, by the time this film is done, I found I wasn’t eyeing any further sequels with much anticipation after the loss of yet another main ingredient of the series... at least in my eyes.

The film is a joy to watch, though, for the most part and the director has got this really nice thing going with scene transitions which are reflected from the end of one scene into the next... so a pile of drugs will be the side of a mountain next to Poppy’s secret lair, a hole punched through a wall in that lair will be the hole left on the bomb site of the Kingsman shop in London and a bottle of whiskey would morph into a big building in Kentucky shaped like the bottle of whiskey, etc. It’s a nice touch and it really works through the movie without being overdone to the point that it begins to wear thin.

The stunt work and action in this is also great and there’s the usual strong humour undercutting things as it did first time around. Colin Firth’s resurrection is handled particularly well in that he doesn’t immediately snap into mission mode and a lot of scenes of him not being able to remember who he was are not rushed unduly. The way he is brought back into himself, as it were, hinges on the credibility of an ‘expanded’ flashback to part of the original film that everyone remembers and it’s done very well. Even the scene where he goes into a deliberate parallel scene of his famous “manners maketh man” moment from the first doesn’t go as you’d expect it to, being used to simultaneously show that the resurrection isn’t completely taken, as yet and also used to try, not all that successfully, to up the stakes with another character to give the final quarter of the film a little more edge... but, again, I can’t say anything more here because it’s quite definitively in spoiler territory (although a certain plot twist could be deduced from the trailer and I was wondering about a certain possible reveal before I even started watching the movie, to be honest). And even the resurrection of another character (who appears in the film right from the start) is pretty well accounted for and makes total sense, in all fairness.

All this being said, though, the film does have a fair few problems too. For one, a cable car sequence relies on having the car fitted with something which is both completely useless to anyone, super-villain or not, and makes absolutely no sense. Nobody would have a cable car that could do what it does here and, especially, for absolutely no good reason or practical use as it is portrayed during this sequence. Similarly, a character who is branded as part of ‘The Golden Circle’ would surely not let themself be played in the way that Eggsy plays that person in this movie. You can’t claim that a specific character is a naive person if we’ve already been shown how rigorous a ritual it is to be allowed to be a member of The Golden Circle. It makes no sense.

Another big problem is the quality of the action. Like I said, it’s all great but it also feels a little anti-climactic at times because the opening action sequence of the film which involves a fight and chase in a Kingsman cab (as seen on the trailers) is so blisteringly good and makes for such a strong introduction to the film, that nothing else in the movie really feels as intense as that again. Great opening though. However, for a film that does a lot to link in with the first to the point of both replaying scenes and setting up parallel versions of some of those set pieces, then I was bemused that the two most talked about orgies of violence from the first - the blood rage church sequence and the head exploding sequence - had no alternate versions explored in this one and... I felt it really needed something as extreme as those towards the end of this one to keep the feel a little closer to the first.

The film is probably, I suspect, not all that great as a stand alone movie either. There are a lot of jokes and nods to the first one but some of them are quite subtle and rely on knowledge gleaned from that movie. For instance, when an exchange between two characters goes to saving the world, unless you’ve seen the first one then you won’t know what that little hook in the conversation is all about and no idea that they’re really talking about anal sex. Similarly, when we are shown Eggsy’s Kingsman office in his flat, people who haven’t seen the first one may not understand why three, completely unglamourous newspaper front pages are decorating the wall. Even when Colin Firth’s character is being questioned by Merlin about the exact same thing, unless you know what Firth’s explanation of the newspapers is in the first film, you may find yourself scratching your head as to the significance of these questions. So this really is a film for people who are familiar with the first... not least because so many scenes from the first one are ‘given away’ here. That’s not particularly a problem, mind you and I prefer it like this but... I can see how some people might get lost in this one.

However, even with all the minus points, the film still manages to be a cut above many others which have tried... and failed... to do this kind of thing properly. They've also convinced me that the time is right for somebody to have a crack at a movie version of The Ballad Of Halo Jones at some point soon please (anybody who remembers Toby will know exactly what I'm talking about when they see this).

And the score, once again by composers Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson from the first film, creates the all important musical continuity which so many big screen franchises (Marvel, DC, Alien, Star Trek etc) get wrong. The Kingsman theme is used more, has instant recognition value here and I suspect I’m going to be playing this score a lot more than the first one when it comes out on CD at the end of next month. It even, apparently, has some of Jackman’s score for X-Men - First Class deliberately used for a certain scene here.

All in all, then, Kingsman - The Golden Circle is a great night out at the movies. Not devoid of problems but definitely one which I think fans and admirers of the first film will enjoy a lot. Like I said earlier, I can’t see how a third movie would be able to work without a certain ‘ingredient’ in the mix but, hey, there’s at least a possible replacement character already lined up for that role here, I suppose, so... lets see how the box office on this one goes before we write off another sequel.

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