The curse of the movie franchise, is that the sequel never quite lives up to the original. And Matthew Vaughn’s Kingman 2: The Golden Circle falls victim once again.
The problem here is not that Kingsman 2 is bad, but it was always going to come short of the original. The first instalment was such a nuanced idea whilst its execution completely rewrote the typical British- Spy genre, which until this point had often been over-run by serious Bond flicks or ridiculous comedies like Austin Powers. That being said Kingsman 2 is still undoubtedly an enjoyable film.
The film opens with a high action chase scene involving our protagonist from the previous film, Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and former Kingsman initiate turned villain Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft). Admittedly this scene was confusing initially as most of the audience are aware, Charlie was one of the unfortunate members to have his head ‘fireworked’ off in the last instalment of the film. Surely he was dead. But alas, here he is again sporting a mechanical arm and a buzz cut. Nevertheless, his reappearance is explained soon after along with the introduction of the new charismatic villain, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). Poppy is a drug lord who has an affinity for the 1960s, hence her nostalgic themed hideaway in Columbia. After wiping out the majority of the Kingsman agents (and poor JB), she soon distributes a life-threatening drug around the world. Only with the help of their American ‘cousins’ at Statesman, lead by Agent Champagne (Jeff Bridges), do our protagonists stand a chance at saving the world.
Kingsman 2 boasts a star-studded cast from even the smallest of cameos. But sometimes this level of talent has gone to waste. For example, Michael Gambon is seen briefly in the role of Arthur before being blown up. It just seems unnecessary to cast the acting legend if his talents are not going to be used. Likewise, I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Channing Tatum’s Tequila -he spends most of the film in a cryogenic box unfortunately. The household names continue with musical legend Elton John making an appearance as himself. Whilst he adds a comic level to the film, it is a bit forced. His acting is a little bit stiff and safe to say he should stick to singing. What was somewhat confusing was why Poppy wanted Elton to feature in her 1960s world, when John didn’t reach fame properly until the 1970s.
That being said let it be known that Colin Firth will always be one of my personal favourite actors. And once again he delivers a brilliant performance as Harry Hart. In the original film, Harry was a self-assured agent, confident in his actions and himself. But after the trauma he received at Valentine’s hand, he has regressed to his former timid self, obsessed with Lepidoptera. This change really show casts Firth’s talent. He is able to alternate between identities throughout the film whilst still maintaining an empathetic but also comedic note. On the other hand, Julianne Moore whilst not being bad as such doesn’t quite fill the shoes left behind by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson was an enigmatic and quite frankly hilarious villain. Moore, at times can be irritating. The running joke of Valentine, was that he kills people but faints at the sight of blood so never gets his hands dirty; the similar premise that Poppy is a drug lord who is squeaky clean and never actually touches drugs herself just doesn’t have the same punch line.
Despite this, the film does not suffer as a result. It is still hilariously funny and the cinematography –much like the first film- is outstanding. The action scenes are shot in such a manner, that despite it being fast paced are slowed in certain frames so you see every little movement. The scenes that involved the lasso are brilliantly shot for example. Likewise the setting of Poppy Land is beautiful in that it is an amalgamation of three different worlds. The architecture is both of the ancient Columbian ruins and of 1960s America (complete with bowling alleys being over-run by the surrounding jungle). But the modern technological elements -such as robots, mechanical dogs and drones- remind us that this is set in present day.
But with the inclusion of all things modern, one can’t help but miss the simplicity of the original film. The first film played on traditional tropes of the British spy and British gentleman, with even the idea of the phone shoe being thrown into the dialogue too. Although this is revisited with American stereotypes instead- like with the baseballs as grenades- the advanced modern technological element takes away from what was so precious about the original movie.
Likewise trying to equate the sophisticated spy names of Kingsman (associated with the Knights of the Round Table) with names of American alcohols, does get a few laughs but falls a bit flat otherwise. I mean you can hardly take a spy seriously when they have names like Tequila or Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). Stereotypes of the American south continue when the main anthem of the film is ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’. Despite the song being about West Virginia the film takes place in Kentucky, which although are next to each other are separate states. Nevertheless the song lends itself well to the heartbreaking scene involving Merlin (Mark Strong) and a land mine.
Was there any serious issues dealt with?
The first film dealt with the political issues of climate change and overpopulation. Most alarmingly was the willingness of influential people to let thousands to die in order to save themselves. There is this similar streak within Kingsman 2. The War on Drugs is a pressing issue often featured in today’s news. And when thousands of people’s lives are on the line, the president (Bruce Greenwood) is willing to allow them to die. Mostly for prestige he will gain for ending the war and wiping out junkies altogether. As the first film nods to the then president Obama in a quick scene, one can’t help but think that this version of the president may have a similar streak with a certain other American leader who is often in the news for his extreme opinions…
Likewise, there is a brief mention as to why Agent Ginger Ale has not been promoted to a field agent despite her wish to leave the world of tech support behind. She mentions that Agent Whisky (Pedro Pascal) always votes against her. This is a throw-away line until it is understood that Whisky is a businessman first and foremost. Hence his reasoning for shutting Ginger down has little to do with her ability, and rather her gender. It seems that even in the spy world there is a glass ceiling that needs to be broken.
Kingsman 2 is clever, action packed and hilariously funny. If you are a fan of the first film then you must see the sequel. However, it does fall short in comparison as it loses some of its novelty and originality that the first film boasts.