Reel Talk

Kingsman: The Golden Circle and the Satire Sequel

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I would say that by now it’s pretty clear that I’m a huge fan of the James Bond series. After spending a solid month discussing the character and the franchises I think that came across. It’s something that I feel very passionately about, so it stands to reason that I have very strong feelings towards things that are even tangentially related to the world of Bond. Which brings us to Kingsman. When the original came out a few years ago I wasn’t overly impressed. I saw a lot of people losing their minds over the film, talking about how it blew them away, and delivered a fun spy romp that the Bond franchise hadn’t delivered in years. I didn’t really see it that way. It certainly was nice to see a spy movie that didn’t take itself seriously, and didn’t feature a bunch of emotionless murder-machines who were basically just weapons operated by the government, but it just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. And I think that I figured out the reason for that as soon as I saw that this was based on something Mark Millar wrote. The guy has written some quality comics in his career, but overall his work strikes me as rather sophomoric, and kind of specifically aimed at the frat boy set. And I got that feeling from Kingsman. It had its moments, but overall I found it to be fun, stupid, and forgettable. But, since I was in the minority in that opinion, we’ve now been given a sequel, Kingsman: the Golden Circle. And it’s basically what I expected it would be.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle continues the story of Eggsy Unwin, the star Kingsman who saved the world a few years earlier. He’s enjoying life as the star spy protecting England and living his life with his girlfriend the princess of Sweden, when he’s suddenly attacked by a man named Charlie, who used to be a Kingsman applicant. Eggsy manages to fight off Charlie, but not without letting his robotic arm get access to the mainframe of Kingsman headquarters. And this information puts everyone in the Kingsman at risk, because there’s a new villain in the world, and she’s taking specific aim at the Kingsman organization. Her name is Poppy, and she runs the Golden Circle, the largest drug distribution organization on the planet. And she has a master plan that she just knows the Kingsmen will get involved in, so with Charlie’s help she finds the location of every Kingsman hideout, and blows them up, killing everyone. Well, everyone but Eggsy and Merlin, the quartermaster, because they happened to be away from their homes at the time of the attacks. So, with just two surviving members of the Kingsmen, Eggsy and Merlin look for some sign of what to do next. And, after consulting a worst case scenario, they learn of the existence of a similar organization to theirs based in America known as the Statesmen. So Eggsy and Merlin head to Kentucky to infiltrate the whiskey distillery that the Statesmen operate out of, and end up being introduced to the organization.

Which is when things get complicated. Because after meeting the agents Whiskey and Tequila, their quartermaster Ginger Ale, and the leader of the organization Champagne, they also learn that the Statesmen have a memory-less captive. Harry Hart, the Kingsman who trained Eggsy and seemed to die in the previous film. They saved his life, and he’s been staying with the Statesmen ever since. And, as if that’s not enough to deal with, they also learn just what Poppy and the Golden Circle are up to. It turns out that from her Cambodian hideout that she’s transformed into a 50’s kitsch wonderland complete with diners, robot dogs, and a captive Elton John, she’s introduced a virus into all of her drugs, which she will now ransom the world with. She makes it clear that everyone who has used one of her drugs, which is a shocking amount of the population, will soon die, unless the governments of the world legalize all drugs, making her the richest business in the world. Eggsy, Harry, and Whiskey attempt to steal some of the antidote from one of Poppy’s distribution centers, but Charlie is able to fight them off, while Harry starts to suspect Whiskey’s motives and allegiances. It becomes apparent that there’s no way to stop Poppy without a direct assault. So Eggsy and Harry head to Cambodia, and attack her stronghold while Merlin sacrifices himself. Eggsy then battles Charlie while Harry and Elton John fight Poppy’s robot attack dogs. And, eventually, the kill Poppy with a heroin overdose and get her secret password, releasing the antidote around the world, saving the day yet again.

 

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I didn’t really like Kingsman: the Secret Service too much. It was a fun action movie with a lot of color, humor, and crazy action, but there was a general aesthetic to the film that kept me from enjoying it too much. And this sequel didn’t do much to fix any of that for me. In fact, it doubled down on the aspects of the film that made it not work for me personally, leading to a film that was even less for me. At almost two and half hours long this film was bloated and unwieldy, while still feeling like it didn’t have enough story going on. We learn virtually nothing about Poppy, making her just a collection of weird ideas rather than a character, we spend far too much time looking at Eggsy and Tilde’s relationship, and for the most part the new characters from the Statesmen weren’t important to the plot. The humor in the movie remained just as lowest common denominator, earning just a few chuckles. Which would make you hope that the action would maybe make up for. This is not the case. This movie is full of ugly, poorly shot action that so muddled with CGI that you can barely follow what’s going on. So yeah, not the strongest film I’ve seen this year.

Satire is probably one of the most difficult genres to do right. Because you’ve somehow got to make a story that’s poking fun of something, while remaining both a legitimate example of that story and a funny story, and remain in good spirits. It’s an incredibly difficult line to walk, and you’re constantly teetering on the edge of falling into farce. And Kingsman: The Secret Service had a very hard time with that balancing act. That first film took the tropes of spy movies at the time, especially the James Bond franchise, and tried to be everything they weren’t. It was as if that movie was made by going down a checklist, figuring out some things to parody, and some things to just do the same as every other spy story. It didn’t work that well for me, but it wasn’t a terrible satire. It didn’t have a whole lot of insight into the spy genre other than, “these stories are ridiculous, and should embrace the camp, silliness, and pulpy roots of the genre.” Which meant that a sequel was going to always be a rough time. Typically, sequels to satires don’t work out that well. I think it’s because satire’s are usually a ridiculous example of the type of story they’re satirizing, and when you make a sequel the usual method is to be bigger and crazier than the predecessor. So, when you’re starting point it teetering on the edge of farce the only place to go from there is to dive off the deep end. Which is what this film did. Watching this film, I really didn’t see it as a satire any more. It had gotten so crazy, and so unaware of what it had become, that it stopped feeling like a tongue in cheek spy story that was poking fun at the genre, and just kind of felt like a poorly made spy story. The satire and nuance was gone, and it was replaced with weird stereotypes, hacky jokes, and lackluster action that was more interested in becoming a bigger spectacle than the previous movie, while apparently not caring about crafting an engaging story.

 

Kingsman: the Golden Circle was written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn, directed by Matthew Vaguhn, and released by 20th Century Fox, 2017.

 

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