Live and Let Alone
2017 is quickly turning out to be a year for disappointments for promising ideas. The worst part about these movies isn’t that they’re bad, they’re merely weak and limp executions that do the bare minimum to avoid falling into the pit of absolute garbage. Speaking of which, let’s talk about the sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service for no apparent reason.
Continuing off a year after the events of the last film, Eggsy Unwin (Taron Edgerton) is enjoying his life as a Kingsman, a member of a British, secret, British, independent, and did I mention British (?) organization dedicated to saving the world from terrorists and schemers one martini at a time. While he’s been busy enjoying his newfound life of luxury, purpose and his relationship with a Swedish princess (long story), his whole world is once again upended when a nefarious drug dealer named (Julianne Moore) blows up his home, his office, his fellow agents, and pretty much the majority of all his James Bond-knock off tech. Being the only agent remaining alongside his trusty support lead, Merlin (Mark Strong), Eggsy embarks to America per a “Doomsday Order” to rendezvous with the Statesmen…basically a cartoonishly American version of the Kingsmen whose agents all dress like cowboys rather than smart dressed British men, names after types of alcohol as opposed to knights of the round table, and baseball equipment for gadgets instead of umbrellas. Eggsy and Merlin also discover that their former dead mentor Harry (Colin Firth) is somehow alive and then…stuff just sort of happens.
Seriously, I think they wrote this movie as they captured stuff on camera. After a thrilling opening car chase set to the tune of Queen’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the film comes to an abrupt stop when they reintroduce Harry (and consequently neuter the emotional impact of his death in the first film) as the filmmakers really didn’t know where to take this spy thriller. Which is odd, because literally everyone who worked on the first movie is back for this installment, but it almost seems that they really didn’t know where else to take their Bond parody besides copying whole scenes from the first film. Dead serious, we get another version of the “Manners maketh man” scene that’s less fun the second time around since the action is being pulled off by a less charismatic character; we also get a near identical mass genocide plot by the main villain and her crony (who also happens to have a prosthetic limb allowing him to kick ass); and we even get recreations of several other pivotal scenes in Eggsy’s development that are now applied to a different character.
So sadly we’ve got a bad case of sequelitis going on for The Golden Circle that is only mercifully saved from the bowels of hell thanks to the strength of a very solid cast. Yes, much like Ghostbusters 2, people will probably be fond of this movie because all their favorite characters return with their respective actors giving their all (even if a few others suffer the same fate as Hicks and Newt in Alien 3 thus robbing you of any investment). Taron Edgerton is once again in top form here, and he continues to impress me as a leading man capable of switching between good relationship drama and quippy action. Mark Strong has considerably more to do in this movie, and he definitely has fun with what he’s given. But Colin Firth’s return is handled…poorly.
Look, Firth is an awesome actor. I mean he’s the reason the first film worked as well as it did with his suave nature combined with his surprising violent rampages. But the reason for his comeback in this film is really freaking dumb and it negatively affects his character so he’s no longer that suave guy from the original. I’m not going to spoil why he returned, but I wish they went with something far more outlandish like an evil cousin that looks identical to the first character (a la City Slickers 2). At least there the filmmakers could have given his character an actual arc, because as it stands, Harry is a plot device and nothing more. You could take him out, replace him with another character, and basically take nothing away from the story.
Hell, they could have replaced Firth’s role with Channing Tatum, who you may be surprised to hear I didn’t even mention in my usual synopsis. That’s because he’s introduced and is quickly put to sleep for nearly 70% of the movie (after we see him do a silly dance), though you are at least given a chance to admire his quite impressive crotch. Or how about giving Halle Berry or Jeff Bridges something fun to do besides stay behind a desk and do nothing else? Honestly, all of their characters are connected to the Statesmen, but we really only get to know the organization in just broad strokes through Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) who’s also the only one of them who gets to do fun action scenes…but not much else. There is supposed to be some critical character development involving him towards the end that just feels awkward since it’s too damn rushed, so he may as well have been played by any odd action star rather than wasting a charismatic actor.
“Waste” is the word of the day here, because it becomes painfully obvious that this film really didn’t know what the hell it was talking about when it shoves in a random anti-drug war message out of nowhere. What’s even stranger is that the drug legalization campaign all comes from our main villain, Poppy (Julianne Moore as a wholesome 60’s mom operating a ruthless drug cartel…the idea isn’t nearly as mined for comedy as it should). Much like the first film that a climate change agenda is pursued aggressively by the antagonist, the sequel opts its main villain to take on a strange libertarian agenda in the most confusing way imaginable. Confusing in the sense that the film presents this sincere issue in a “both sides are right” kind of way in the middle of a spy thriller. I forgave the presence of this weird issue in the first film because the rest was a roller coaster thrill ride, but because I wasn’t having as much fun for this movie, I’m far less charitable.
Instead, I’m more critical of things because most of what I see in this movie was already done and done better in the first film. The only scene that’s significantly different from the first is way out of left field in terms of being sexist as all hell. It all concerns the spies trying to get information out of a lover of the villain, you know, typical Bond fare. But rather than kiss and run once a character gets what they want, they have to do some real creepy ass shit. Was it a commentary on how messed up these kinds of scenes are in Bond movies? I’m going to say no, because nothing else in The Golden Circle feels like a parody of anything.
There are no clever jokes or references to British spy films. Hell, there’s not even a cutting jibe thrown at the Statesman for being knockoff versions of the Kingsman. Everything feels like it’s there for its own sake with nothing interesting to add to the universe that the first film had set up or even mocking the concept of spy franchises in general.
The movie is only bolstered by the solid performances and decent action scenes in the very beginning and the final act of the movie. Without them, I’d be far angrier than I am now. Because right now, I’m just bummed in all honesty. I was really looking forward to this as allowing Matthew Vaughn (director X-Men First Class, Kick-Ass and Stardust) to have a franchise to call his very own and create a unique vision for. If we somehow get a third installment, I’m crossing my fingers that they can avoid repeating these mistakes or we’ll have another middling Men in Black 3 on our hands. This is sadly getting from me a mediocre…