Skip to main content

Kill Elton John.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Matthew Vaughn may have talked a good game when highlighting those successful follow-ups, and their winning ingredients, he aspired to for his first home-grown sequel, but unfortunately he falls prey to the worst excesses of typical bigger, baggier, more bloated studio fare. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is more Die Hard 2 or Iron Man 2 than John Wick Chapter 2 or The Empire Strikes Back. Not that I think trying for the latter kind of model works on this kind of movie anyway. Kingsman hews closer to the Austin Powers side of Bond than the Bourne, so pasting the beats of an earnest one over an essentially frivolous enterprise leads to, well, indulgence and excess.


Vaughn commentedI realise the sequels that worked are the ones that are a continuation of the story where you’re seeing new things, where there’s a little bit of the old stuff, what I call the familiar hug, but you have to expand the characters’ journey and learn about them. Sequels that work do so because you love the characters, and want to see more of them. It’s the characters that make your franchise unique. It isn’t the explosions and all that stuff. The kids are bored of CG”. Says the man who makes a pair entirely un-verisimilitudinous robot dogs central to The Golden Circle’s climax.


The director went on to cite a holy quartet (The Godfather Part II, Empire, Aliens and T2 – I think you could leave out the last one, although I can see why he included it), which is all very well, but Kingsman just isn’t their type of movie. Striving to progress character and theme is likely to be stopped rudely short when you lay claim to an ethos of unreconstituted laddishness (and proud of it). Both he and Guy Ritchie have an unerring eye for crowd-pleasing spectacle, but a negative affinity for subtlety and nuance. Neither knows when to stop, to the extent that Kingsman wears its provocateur aspect as a badge of honour; this is the guy who announces, proud as punch “I make movies for adults that haven’t grown up. That’s who I am and what a lot of my friends are”. Poor Claudia Schiffer.


You might have hoped regular writing cohort Jane Goldman would temper his most juvenile excesses, but she is, after all, married to Wossy, so there’s no chance there. I suppose we can be grateful Vaughn’s resists going the full Mark Millar, instead making the latter’s work less objectionable than they otherwise would be. Still, though. This is a movie that continues, as any thoroughbred lad will, to treat its female characters dismally, with the exception of Julian Moore’s Poppy (but she’s the villain so has dispensation by virtue of being a villain first).


One might suggest Vaughn has atoned with the treatment of Hanna Alström’s Princess Tilde here, whose presence in the first movie was predicated on a poor taste anal sex gag, by giving her a stable relationship with Eggsy, but it’s rather the case that she entirely lacks any autonomy and has to wait around while he saves her (again). 


Poppy Delevingne plays Clara, the girlfriend of henchman Charlie (Edward Holcroft, like Colin Firth an apparently unlikely returnee but presumably justified in Vaughn’s mind by revisiting loved characters, even the hissable ones – expect Mark Strong to be resurrected in Part 3, if this makes enough dough. Anyway, Holcroft’s very good, more than warranting the decision). Clara, similarly to Tilde in the first, is there purely to be subjected to a crude fingering gag, the kind of thing feverishly thought up by the mind of an acne-stricken fourteen-year-old (or Kevin Smith). Once the joke’s done with, she’s dispensable, such that she says yes to drugs (most of the female characters here do, aside from the bookish Halle Berry) – her weakness marked out for all to see, and is then blown up by her boyfriend.


Most egregious, though, is the fate of Roxy (Sophie Cookson), who for the first two acts of The Secret Service was Eggsy’s equal, before being relegated to a peripheral plot thread come the climax. Here, she’s given little more than a cameo before being incinerated. Even if Vaughn and Goldman intend to have her survive somehow, they’ve pretty much laid out their marker that this is only a movie about the lads doing lads’ stuff, and women are strictly disposable. This isn’t anything new to the genre, but Kingsman revelling unapologetically in Vaughn’s penchant for bad boy behaviour places it in the starkest, least-flattering light.


Vaughn is also evidently paying lip service to the importance of character when he has Eggsy inform Harry “I owe you everything”; not so much that the latter’s motto “Manners maketh the man” hasn’t rubbed off at all, it seems. Eggsy’s still swearing every effing fifteen seconds, and uses the system of etiquette as a smart aleck would, rather than seeing it as something to genuinely be embraced for its merits. Which isn’t to say the original’s Eliza Doolittle stance wasn’t essentially suspect anyway (posh boy Vaughn, like Ritchie, loves to play act the working-class mucker routine, translating to material like this as a degree of have it both ways snobbery/patronisation), but you’d be forgiven for thinking Eggsy had learnt nothing at all (this even plays in reverse, when Harry must admit that Eggsy’s rule breaking exposes his own lack of emotional fulfilment).


Essentially, then, Vaugh is very lucky to have a lead as personable as Taron Egerton, because an already iffy enterprise would probably crash and burn without him. Strangely, by the time Colin Firth shows up, I’d become used to the movie without his presence; I’m the first to admit that I didn’t think any kind of Kingsman continuation could succeed without him, so indelible to the mismatched class clash of The Secret Service was he, and as such the announcement that they’d cheated and were bringing him back elicited a cheer on my part at least (it is, after all, one of the few roles where I’ve had much opinion about the actor at all, as generally he’s passed unnoticed or elicited confusion with other Colins or Firths).


Apart from the problem of the picture stopping in its tracks to reintroduced Harry and his pre-Kingsman fascination with Lepidoptera (again, this can work for a straight character drama, but the here the picture quickly loses all momentum and sense of direction), his arc in The Golden Circle is one of the few areas that elicits any degree of tension; will he be able to regain his former prowess with just one eye, will he keep seeing butterflies, and has his judgement become so impaired that he’s shot and killed a (transatlantic) colleague for no good reason?


But if his retconning return works, mostly, the expansion of the mission boundaries – that bigger, more, hurdle – mostly doesn’t. The Statesmen are in the main a bust. Jeff Bridges (Champagne), now permanently afflicted with mumble-mouth, is hardly there, Berry (Ginger) is nominally given a Merlin role, but then a full agent status without showing why at all (making the decision seem arbitrary and as misjudged as the more obviously objectified other female characters), while the greatest amount of Statesmen time is devoted to Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey, including the mistaken assumption that we care remotely about repeatedly witnessing his lassoing prowess.


This is where Vaughn most shows off his lack of understanding of the sequel formula he claims to have studied. There’s a repeat of the originals’ pub fight set piece, but where that was stylish and exhilarating, this looks plain silly (those lasso antics) and is in the service of someone we have zero investment in winning through; we don’t care about Whiskey. That he’s teamed up with Harry and Eggsy may make sense for the eventual plot twist, but if the objective was to strike sparks between the characters, side-lining the much more entertaining Channing Tatum (Tequila) was a fatal mistake. There’s a whiff of cynicism here too, no doubt assuming the promise of more Tequila (and Ginger) in the second sequel will attract further Stateside success. This tends to be the reasoning of idiots, who fail to realise that the undiluted Englishness of the movie was what made it so appealing in the first place.


One of the criticisms of The Golden Circle is that there isn’t a set piece to rival the church massacre in its predecessor, but it would be more accurate to say that there isn’t even one to rival the pub fight, or the underwater intelligence test. There’s a reasonable car chase opening battle between Eggsy and Charlie, but there’s insufficient tangibility to make it truly enthralling (this is Vaughn and his no-CGI boast coming home to roost). Likewise, the cable car set piece; it may use more proficient technology than Moonraker, but it’s too overblown to care about.


The OTT villain finds a commendable successor to Sam Jackson in Moore, but there’s also a sense that Poppy is too much of a direct swap; for all the distinctive loopiness, her crackpot scheme runs on much the same lines as Jackson’s crackpot scheme, again involving the infection of swathes of the populace and a last-ditch attempt to save them (or as many as possible) from a gruesome/absurd death.


Bruce Greenwood’s scheming US President is at least refreshingly calculated in his realisation that failing to pay the ransom and having the drug-using element of the country wiped out (most of them, surely?) just like that (that Poppy seems to have her finger in every drug supply route beggars belief, but then so does the movie, so I’ll let that pass) will enable to him to claim victory in the war on drugs. It’s quite neat, although it’s as facile an embrace of a buzz topic (overpopulation there, legalisation here) as the first movie’s plot motivator. And, lest there was any doubt as to where Vaughn’s sympathies lie, well, he has the picture stop off for an entirely indulgent visit to Glastonbury. Because, like, cool, man.


Talking of which, if we’re to follow the original’s line of Vaughn featuring cartoonish visions of conspiracy theories, here we have both the idea that human meat (Keith Allen’s no less) is purposely fed into the food chain (albeit in very localised fashion via Poppy’s mincer) and the establishment of ready-to-use FEMA camps (albeit with single occupant cages) to house the victims of Poppy’s virus. None of this plays especially coherently, but if there’s much in the plotline Vaughn doesn’t pull off – those CGI robot dogs most glaringly – Moore’s entirely formidable.


Also formidable is one Elton John, the latest example of a celeb cameo that has its cake and eats it but succeeds despite itself. John playing up his spoilt rich pop star status and combustible reputation is hilarious, particularly being forced to play to order, and his ability to sit there, disconsolate, like an overgrown child sent to the naughty seat, evidencing that he has a certain performance ability even if you’d never call him an actor. Like most of these celeb pals jokes, though, it goes a bit far; when it comes to Elton suddenly enabled as a kick-ass, and offering Harry a, ahem, backstage pass, you’re simply indulging the icon you were earlier mocking.


As with earlier Vaughn joints, this one is partial to the pop tune-accompanied set piece, but to less sustained effect. I commented that Atomic Blonde’s devotion to strategically chart-topper-designed action sequences was sometimes distracting, but they never felt uninspired the way they do here, be it Word Up or Rocket Man. Just dropping in a catchy song and hoping it will do the heavy lifting is a sure sign of creative lethargy, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle tends to make exactly what was fresh and original about the first picture seem tired and formulaic on repeat. Still, Mark Strong belting out Take Me Home, Country Roads is a definite highlight, even if his sacrifice comes from the rule book of “This is what you do to give a sequel stakes”, rather than counting for anything in and of itself.


I’d like to think we’d get the equivalent of Iron Man Three in any third Kingsman, provided this one nets enough to get a greenlight, but I’m beginning to suspect Vaughn may be one of those directors who needs a something or someone reining in his baser impulses. That would be why First Class is still his best movie, and why at some point he really needs to outgrow his penchant for Mark Millar-based juvenilia.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

What I have tried to show you is the inevitability of history. What must be, must be.

The Avengers 2.24: A Sense of History
Another gem, A Sense of History features one of the series’ very best villains in Patrick Mower’s belligerent, sneering student Duboys. Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at St Bode’s College investigating murder most cloistered, and the author of a politically sensitive theoretical document, in Martin Woodhouse’s final, and best, teleplay for the show (other notables include Mr. Teddy Bear and The Wringer).

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers 24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …