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Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a messy, gilded sequel that’s still pretty entertaining

By Jonah Koslofsky

Section: Arts

September 29, 2017

It’s cliche at this point to dismiss a sequel as being “not as good as the first one.” However, in this case, it’s also the truth. The follow up to 2015’s massive sleeper hit “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” its follow-up, “The Golden Circle” is almost as big of a disappointment as its predecessor was a delight. The first “Kingsman” was a cohesive, fantastic homage to the over-the-top spy movies of yesterday, complete with an ass-kicking Colin Firth (clearly cast because he’s the last actor you’d expect to see in a movie like this) and a genuinely charismatic lead in newcomer Taron Egerton. The film moved at a brisk pace, the action was both absurd and well staged, and there was a constant confidence on display in the storytelling even as the humor constantly crossed the line between clever and obscene.

But there was another, over-the-top action movie I loved from 2015: “Furious 7.” Today, the “Fast and Furious” franchise is the peak of dumb fun, and I have to admit I’ve become a fan. That’s not to say that I think the series is full of good quality films, but because watching these movies is just so damn entertaining. There’s a consistency: the story is stupid, the characters are stupid, and the action is stupid. Even the product placement is stupid, but at a certain point, the stupidity becomes a little charming. Sure, you’re laughing “at” the movie, but you’re still laughing. It’s this same principle that turned “The Room,” the “worst movie ever made,” into a cult classic.

So if the first “Kingsman” had me laughing with it and “Furious 7” found me laughing at it, the problem with “The Golden Circle” is that it zigzags between the two, sometimes conjuring sincere enjoyment and other times showing something so dumb I just had to laugh. The plot is still a 21st century Bond affair, taking us all around the globe to stop Julianne Moore’s megalomaniacal drug lord. After the pains, the first film went through to establish the Kingsman and it’s headquarters and cast, returning director Matthew Vaughn chooses to basically take us back to square one by killing a few characters and blowing up Kingsman HQ within the first half hour. This is actually Vaughn’s first sequel–and it shows. The director clearly has a knack for origin stories (take the first “Kingsman” or the excellent “X-Men: First Class”), but seems totally out of his element having to build on an already established story.

In this case, it actually seems like the problem may have been that he built too much. Vaughn revealed in a recent interview that the original cut of “The Golden Circle” was close to a whooping four hours. That’s crazy, and what it means is that the film had to be drastically edited and re-cut, which leads to a really jarring second act in which characters seemingly teleport from one side of the world to another, meet off camera for the first time, and a key romantic subplot is introduced far too early in the film and then basically forgotten. The pacing is still lightning fast, but this time it’s not because of a solid structure, it’s because a lot of filler was cut and a lot of the movie was re-ordered.

There are a lot of parallels here with the most recent Bond movie, “Spectre”: a sequel that isn’t as good as it’s predecessor, has a long ski mountain sequence, and starts with an awesome opening action scene. Edgerton is still great as “Eggsy,” and unlike “Spectre,” “Kingsman” boasts a pretty fun, extended Elton John cameo, so you can eat your heart out and wash it down with a martini, James Bond. And while I’m on the positives of “Golden Circle,” I’ll say that the finale is also quite well done, but it’s only accomplished because the writers came up with an extremely stupid way to bring Colin Firth’s character back from the dead (oops, spoilers for Kingsman 1). Yet again, Firth is fantastic as a badass spy, but what isn’t fantastic is that his subplot involves amnesia, which feels like it could have been taken from the script of a soap opera. In the end, Firth’s arc had me laughing “at” it as much as “with” it.

Finally, the politics, especially the gender politics of this film are really quite head-scratching, and by that I mean they’re just as weird as the original. Vaughn kills off the awesome, independent female agent Roxy in that opening act, and there’s a scene where Eggsy has to seduce a target, and it’s not quite ironic enough to stop it from being horribly sexist. Julianne Moore is very one note—yet another underwritten, well-acted performance—but it’s the way the film tries to tackle the War on Drugs that really comes up short. Basically, it seems to say that you should “just say no” but that “not all drug users are bad,” all while everyone consumes copious amounts of alcohol carefree. A compelling message and theme this is not.

Don’t pay to see “Kingsman 2” in theaters. While I was laughing throughout, the movie couldn’t commit to being either so-bad-it’s-good or just plain good, and it’s the type of movie where the more I think about it after leaving the theater, the more it irks me. Maybe with one or two rewrites, the script could have been something great. But between the nonsensical editing, lack of cohesive structure and the weird politics, this movie’s just not as good as the first one.

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