The spy genre has seen a bit of a revival over the last decade. The Bourne franchise, the last few Mission Impossible movies, Daniel Craig stepping into 007’s shoes. Some of the most high profile action blockbusters have been spy movies. 2015 was a Banner year for the genre, giving us a Mission Impossible film, a new Bond, the underrated Man From U.N.C.L.E., and the delightfull surprise Kingsman: The Secret Service. Kingsman came out of nowhere, and what could have easily been an average B-movie, was instead a fun, heartfelt, genuinely great action flick. I was beyond excited for a sequel, and unfortunately, it delivered the lackluster B-movie I expected from the first.
Let’s start with this films biggest strength: Taron Egerton. This kid is an absolute star. An unknown before the first film, he managed to bring such charisma and charm to what could have been such a cliched role, and he does so again this time around. Eggsy is the anti-Bond. He has a committed romantic relationship, he feels conflicted about seducing women to get information, he is motivated primarily by his friends and family. If Bond is an icon of the sixties, Eggsy is what a millennial super spy would look like. I loved Egerton in Eddie the Eagle, and even though he isn’t given quite as much to do here, he still makes for one hell of a leading man. While I still personally want Dan Stevens, you’d be forgiven for wanting Egerton as the new Bond when Craig hands over the keys to the Aston-Martin.
The other factor unique to this franchise is director Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn has a hyper-violent, glossy, colorful style that simply isn’t found in anyone else films. The film starts off full tilt with a chase scene tonally on par with the finale of the first film. Vaughn never slows down from there, with numerous action set pieces that some how keep getting more high octane as the film progresses, building to the final fight one-r that was flat out dazzling. Vaughn does action like no other, and if nothing else, I was more than satisfied by the visual spectacle he delivered. This film is over two and a half hours long, but Vaughn structures and paces it as one spectacular sequence after another.
The other way in which The Golden Circle builds from The Secret Service is the introduction of the Statesmen, the American cousins to the Kingsman. Pedro Pascal, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum (when he’s in it), are all great. The way they play with the cowboy trope is inventive and funny, without ever being clichéd. Much like the John Wick franchise, the world of Kingsman is an incredible one that we only get a taste of. I want to know more about this universe’s other secret organization. Is Jackie Chan leading the Chinese counterpart? Peter Stormare the Russian? If a third movie is greenlit, I want nothing more than Nicole Kidman going full Aussie and kicking ass with a bowie knife and a pack of dingos.
While this script does a great job world building, that’s about all it does. The story is essentially one set piece and globe trotting adventure after another, with very little reason or logic in between. I had fun with each location the movie went to, so I forgave the clunky dialogue and non-logic of some characters, but not everyone will. On the surface, the characters have just enough reason to move to the next sequence, but it did often feel like they were headed somewhere simply because the script told them to.
One other knock is how emotionless this movie is. In the first film, Eggsy is a passionate, caring individual characterized by the important, strong relationships he develops. His friends, his mother, Harry, Merlin, Roxy, all of these characters brought out a different side of Eggsy, creating a fully realized character. That’s attempted by giving Eggsy a new romance, but the writers clearly wanted to substitute heart for headshots. The one exception is Mark Strong’s Merlin. Merlin is given a substantially larger role, and with one scene in particular, he actually had me on the verge of tears. This guy is world class, and Hollywood needs to start giving him his due.
Speaking of world class actors, let’s talk about Julianne Moore. There should be no doubt that she’s one of the all time greats, with films like Still Alice and The Kids Are All Right, she’s shown she belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of Dramatic Actress’. She’s also proven that she can have fun with a role, like in the underrated Crazy, Stupid, Love or her incredible character in 30 Rock. With all that out of the way, what the hell was she doing in this movie? Is she a blood thirsty psychopath? A charismatic anarchist? A cold, calculated ice queen? She’s somehow accomplishing all three of these, and none of them at the same time. It’s not a miscasting, as I’m sure that Moore has great villainous performance in her, Poppy is just a poorly written character. It’s like Vaughn took the over-the-top baddy that worked quite well in The Secret Service and turned it up to 11.
Elton John is also in this movie, not playing a character, just being Elton John. I love Elton John, no seriously, I love him, but he’s without question the worst part of this movie. Every single time he showed up on screen, it ripped me out of the movie. At one point, he literally turns to the camera and winks in slow motion. It’s an incredible meme, but a horrible choice for the film.
This is a hard movie to score. From a technical standpoint, no it’s not very good. The writing is subpar, the acting is mostly just serviceable, and for a movie built on visuals, the CGI was pretty noticeable. But dammit did I enjoy this movie. I honestly don’t remember the last time I had this much fun in the theater, it might have been the first Kingsman. It’s no where near bad enough to be considered a guilty pleasure, but it’s certainly not going to be brought up come awards season. I think this is the kind of movie people talk about when they say they want to “turn their brain off and enjoy the ride.” This is truly a great movie, just so long as you don’t think about it too much.
Rating: 2.3 — Fine