‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle‘ is an interesting film. Not only is it Director Matthew Vaughn‘s first sequel to his own work, but it is also perhaps the least Vaughn-esque of his entire filmography, structurally speaking. If you look back on Vaughn’s movies, you’ll notice a structural through line that connects all of Vaughn’s and co-screenwriter/frequent collaborator Jane Goldman‘s scripts. “Stardust“, “Kick-Ass“, “X-Men: First Class“, and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” all share what is essentially a very refined version of The Monomyth, a.k.a. “The Hero’s Journey” told through Vaughn’s dynamic filmmaking style. If you hold films of his like “Kick-Ass” and “The Secret Service” next to each other, you begin to notice that Vaughn has essentially made the same film for the last few years, although each individual entry becomes augmented through the genre in which each story is being told. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the first of his films to deviate from this structure, and it is possibly the weakest of his filmography to date because of this. It’s not that “The Golden Circle” is a bad movie — in fact it does many things right for a sequel — it’s just that the film is essentially the type of spy movie that “The Secret Service” was ultimately satirizing. The film pretty much amplifies all of the elements from the original in a much more extreme way, and for the most part this is a detriment to “Kingsman: The Golden Circle“.
Although this film feels like maximum Vaughn in many respects, the tone seems to be the root cause of The Golden Circle‘s problems. When someone says that a particular film “doesn’t know what it wants to be”, what they are really saying is that said film doesn’t have a consistent tone throughout. While the first film pretty much nailed the tone perfectly, it becomes more of a complex problem with the sequel. Perhaps the biggest indication of this is the movie’s villain, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). In the story, Poppy is portrayed in the mold of a mild-mannered 1950’s housewife, who is seemingly warm and loving, but is actually the hidden figurehead of a secret drug cartel that shares the title of the movie itself. Although Moore’s portrayal of Poppy is not bad in itself, the way that the character is written and directed seems to present a myriad of problems for the film. Chief among these is the fact that Poppy is affably evil to a fault — and it makes her both boring and one-dimmensional all at the same time. Whereas Samuel L. Jackson‘s Richmond Valentine in “The Secret Service” was affably evil with actual relatable human traits, Poppy is the definition of a villain who is affably evil for the sake of being affably evil, all while giving the character no redeeming qualities whatsoever. When your main villain’s only memorable trait is essentially a giant cliche, it’s hard to find that person relatable. Poppy’s plan in the film is even less intriguing simply because her “motives”, and “the Golden Circle” itself ultimately don’t make much sense within the logic that the original set up so wonderfully.
These tonal problems don’t end here however, as the franchise’s main conceit of being both a satire and homage to the spy movie genre unexpectedly shifts in the second act with the introduction of the Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart. While I understand that the idea was to portray the statesman using pretty much every american stereotype known to man, I don’t think that this is done in a particularly fun or interesting way in the film. To be quite honest, I probably wouldn’t have had such a problem with the idea of the Statesman if they had been portrayed more earnestly than they are in the film. With the exception of Pedro Pascal‘s Whiskey–who is really the only interesting new character of the bunch–the rest of the Statesman agents are either not given enough screen time to really effect the plot, or be memorable in any meaningful way. Look, I get it, the Statesman are intended to be the exact opposite of what the Kingsmen represent–Americanism. The problem is that it’s handled in a poor and sloppy way, much like many of the aforementioned elements of the film. Even the names of the Statesman agents themselves are flat and generalized (Whiskey, Tequila, and Champagne), when compared to the codenames of their counterparts (Galahad, Lancelot, Merlin). While this may seem by some to be looking too closely into things, it’s things like this that ultimately speak to the larger problems of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” in many respects.
This is not to say that aren’t some bright spots in the film however, as Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Mark Strong provide magnetic performances that closely rival their portrayals in the original, albeit with a slight twist. It’s no secret that this film resurrects characters killed in the first installment, and besides opening a can of worms that they shouldn’t, Vaughn and co. handle this very interestingly in “The Golden Circle“. They manage to give both Egerton and Firth to play somewhat of a role reversal in the sequel, which makes the resurrection passable since at the very least it provides a new interesting dynamic to the characters. A specific action set piece in the snow is perhaps the most fun that I had watching this film, simply because it remembered not to have too much fun. In a movie that is filled with crazy set pieces, It was nice to have a more toned down action scene that involved character development instead of pure stylization like the rest of the film.
To echo my sentiment earlier, the film actually isn’t horrible and there’s a ton to like about it. But the overall problem remains the same: it’s overshadowed by it’s predecessor. This is something that–at least for me–was impossible to escape when watching “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”, even though at times it’s clear that the filmmakers are trying to do something different. That something different in the movie just happens to be mostly bloated, non-senseal and sometimes farfetched plot that only goes to discredit the work done in the first. In comparison to the original however, the cracks begin to show themselves within the first half of the sequel and begin to quickly deteriorate into a hollow shell of its former self. It’s interesting, because if “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” had been the first entry in the series and “The Secret Service” never existed, I probably would have enjoyed it much more than I did.