The premise is to comment on how every over-the-top spy thriller should, by no means, be PG-13. The foundation for this film is to stress that every spy thriller should be R because the things that spies in movies do, if exposed to even the most rudimentary light, should be R. James Bond is a perv. Eggsy is just showing us that all spies are violent pervs. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
Man, people tend to really hate the first movie. Like, I really liked the first movie. The only reason I saw it, besides the fact that I read the Mark Millar comic The Secret Service, is that it was on bananas sale at Target on its release date. I don't know why it was that insanely cheap on the day it came out, but I knew that my wife was going to be a thing that evening and it seemed like a perfect garage movie. Sure, I knew I'd have to be closing the main door so people couldn't see in, but it was a beautiful evening and I knew that I had the house to myself. And. I. Loved. It. There is a subgenre of action film that I really really like where it throws everything to a wall in the name of sheer joy and that's what the first Kingsman movie was all about. The best example I can think of a movie like that is Shoot 'Em Up with Clive Owen. The really bad part of that subgenre is that a movie really fails when it takes itself too seriously. When it is trying to make money and be commercial, the "throw it all at the wall" attitude really doesn't work. I'm looking at the Charlie's Angels franchise here. But a good no-holds-barred action movie that is unapologetic for its disregard of physics can really be a good time sometimes. I'm really sorry to those people who hate Kingsman, but I really like it. That said, there's a fundamental problem with the very existence of this franchise.
The first movie does what I mentioned in the MPAA section. The purpose of this movie is meant to deconstruct. I love me some James Bond and the British spy thriller often gets me in a good mood. I know so much about James Bond that I'm actually a little ashamed of myself. James Bond has been spoofed and commented upon ever since Our Man Flint (or the Peter Sellers Casino Royale, if you want to argue.) Austin Powers had its time with the genre. Heck, even Spy Kids decided to deconstruct the franchise. I think that Kingsman might have been the first franchise to add something new to it. I really like the commentary in the first movie. It's not like it needed to happen or anything, but I do like when a franchise nails what other franchises miss. The spy-fi genre is such an easy target that I feel like other commentaries on it get lazy and rely on the tropes rather than an attempt to subvert the tropes. But that's Kingsman: The Golden Circle's first major problem. The commentary has already been made. I now get it. The thing that made Kingsman unique is now lost in the franchise. It is starting to become the very thing that it was commenting on. Establishing Eggsy as a real spy defeats the purpose of having him at all. In a way --and this isn't the worst thing in the world either --Eggsy is just James Bond or Jason Bourne who says the f-word and "bruv" a lot. The thing about the first one is that I was never meant to be attached to the Kingsmen. They were a vehicle to tell a story. Making a moment in the sequel where I watch the sad moment where all the Kingsmen are murdered is meant to elicit a reaction. That reaction is counterproductive to the very nature of what the movie is supposed to be. I shouldn't be questioning "How are they going to fix this?" because it doesn't have to be fixed. In the Bond franchise, especially recently, MI-6 is continually attacked. A villain makes it personal and we question how life can ever be the same for this beloved franchise. By making Kingsman a franchise, it establishes that there has to be status quo and that kind of is poison for the series in the long run.
The other major problem with the movie is the villain. Superhero action movies often tend to have a weak spot when it comes to the villain. Again, it is why Bond films keep going back to the Blofeld well. When the villain is intimately related to the hero, the film becomes more compelling. Poppy is barely in this story. It's very weird. Yet, she is the one who has done what no other villain actually could have done for as long as the Kingsmen were said to be around. She destroys the organization quite quickly. That should elevate her status from throwaway bad guy to archvillain, but the film never gives her that gravitas. Rather, she still feels like she is secondary to the A plot. Poppy is always a distant character who seems extremely defeatable. She has no personal stake in the events of Eggsy or Harry. She is far from invincible. Really, any kind of well coordinated strike would take out her base of operations. She's not really insane so much as she is gross. (That hamburger scene? No thank you.) Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine, who is regularly referenced in this movie, seemed far more entertaining. Really, Poppy almost feels like an attempt to copy the quirkiness of the first villain without actually believing it. I don't think that this is Julianne Moore's problem. I just didn't see all for the weirdness with her character actually jiving with her personality. Heck, I just complimented Valentine, but even he seemed a little forced. Mainly, the story has the very odd balance about needing a convoluted world domination scheme despite the fact that the scheme is just a construct to tell a story of a fish out of water. There never really was a threat because civilization in these movies are statistics we are supposed to care about, but it doesn't actually mirror reality. (I get it with the President stuff, but it's a broad strokes portrayal.)
But the movie shines when it asks you to shut your brain off. I'm sure that I've already put more thought into this movie than the producers of the movie have, so let's talk about why I actually really like this movie. The watchword on spyfy is that it is meant to be fun. (I know that I've spelled that portmanteau differently twice. I stand by both.) Kingsman: The Golden Circle is just an insane amount of fun. While I normally detest CG fight sequences, the movie really justifies them because of how frenetic the camera gets. Paul Greengrass tries making action really insane by not letting the audience really see the violence from a distance. Rather, he mirrors the insanity of actually being in a fight by showing quick cuts interlaced with a shaky camera. I like Vaughn's attitude of providing that same insanity, but actually allowing the audience to try to understand what is going on. This comes from impossible shots though. The camera magically dances around fight choreography, much of it actually impossible to create. Now, often this gets very stupid, but it works in Golden Circle. The reason is that the fights are tight and ramped up to eleven. I know, I know. Here I am preaching a movie because the fights are cool. But the fights are really cool. The thing about the fights is that there is never a moment where like "aw man, that guy got wrecked." Rather, the fights are more about being clever. Being clever when trying to do something important is deadly to a film. Being clever because nothing really matter allows me to enjoy a movie just for the fun of it. Not to jump back to a Fast and the Furious review, but that's what the later movies get right. They try being clever and emotionally distant. That doesn't work. Cleverness and fun, however? That works really well. I found myself laughing and clapping like a pretentious snob the entire film and I absolutely adored that feeling. Similarly, much of the movie involves that feeling of attention to detail and absurdity. I mean, Elton John is in the movie. Oh, not only is Elton John in the movie; he's all over this movie. I mean, I thought we were done with Elton John, but he keeps coming back for more absurd sequences. It kind of toed a long Family Guy joke, but it keeps it right on this side of funny. Similarly, the use of the Statesmen was just perfect for me.
If anything, the Statesmen is where the commentary really thrives. It's so odd to think of British intelligence as tailors (because it is what Pinewood has presented for the past fifty years), that to present American intelligence as literal cowboys / bourbon makers is just perfect. I like that we have just acknowledged British intelligence as what James Bond has presented that we can't actually imagine the real thing. I'm amazed that American spies have always been the CIA guy. That's really weird. For a country that lives for fun at the movies, why haven't we ever addressed ourselves as cowboys. The best part of the movie was anything to do with the Statesmen. The joke of their names still makes me giggle. Jeff Bridges as the head...that is the best example of a minor role done well. Champ is barely in the movie, but he fits that role so well. I hate to make another Bond comparison, but it is kind of like the way that Skyfall used Ralph Fiennes as M. Some people were meant to play a part and I really hope that I see Jeff Bridges in future installments if there are future installments. (I'm actually okay with saying "no more", but I also know how Hollywood works. It will beat it into the ground if it can.) The only disappointing elements were how poorly Halle Berry and Channing Tatum were handled. Those were minor parts under the guise of major parts. Pedro Pascal was great, but he didn't have a presence like Channing Tatum. The movie teased him so much and he's barely in the film. He actually might share screentime with Elton John, so keep that in mind. Halle Berry's character might have had a great emotional arc, but it was really sped through. I don't know if it was a pacing thing because her moments are very static, but I keep feeling like she shows up for these major parts and then they become these tiny little scenes. Yeah, Halle Berry used to command a screen. It's just odd now.
I think I have to give the VIP to Mark Strong, however. I like Mark Strong as a character actor. He always knows his character and what is meant to presented. Yeah, Mark Strong is usually the muscle gruff guy, but he wears that character well. I also like that his Merlin is actually quite the opposite. It's another moment when Kingsman plays on expectations. I talked about how this movie asks for vulnerability despite the fact that it shouldn't. The one exception is Merlin's character because he kind of earns his place in this franchise. The slow burn of the character is awesome. In contrast to that, I'm a little disappointed in the retcon that is Colin Firth. I love his character. That's why they brought him back. Everyone loved his character. But that is one of the more shameful retcons I've seen in a while. It also establishes that death means nothing in this universe. I kind of hope that the movie full on embraces how death means nothing for the future because that's the only absurd thing that would justify how Harry is back in the franchise. I don't know. I really have a problem with characters coming back from the dead now. Amnesia is even worse.
While I really, really enjoyed this movie, I also feel like it is an overall misstep in terms of undoing the good will of the first movie for me. I can see this franchise just becoming so unironic that it becomes another broey film, which is exactly what it shouldn't be. Regardless, I'll probably watch them and laugh, but they won't have the same meat on the bones that the first one did.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.