In The Golden Circle, Eggsy’s life as Galahad is good. He’s a new but accomplished agent of the Kingsman, and at the moment his biggest challenge is impressing his girlfriend’s parents. That all changes when a well-timed missile barrage obliterates every Kingsman agent except him and Merlin and every resource at the Kingsman’s disposal, which means they must follow their doomsday protocol: teaming up with the Kingsman’s American cousin, the Statesman, and figuring out what the heck happened.
The Golden Circle had one of the most fun trailers ever, and the movie almost lived up to that. It was ultimately a fun watch, as what it does right, it does very right. However, what it does wrong, it does very wrong, and for this reason, it falls short as a worthy successor to The Secret Service.
First, the good: The first Kingsman movie had some of the best action scenes in the history of spy films, and The Golden Circle keeps that tradition going. While frantic and heavily stylized, the action is easy to follow and over-the-top in the best way.
The opening scene, which sees Eggsy fighting a bionic-armed baddie in (and around) a Kingsman taxi as it’s being chased through the streets of London by cars armed with miniguns watches like this film’s answer to the backwards car chase scene from the first, as if to emphasize Eggsy’s progression as an agent. Now, when it comes to car combat, he can certainly do more than drive fast backward. Likewise, the climactic scene is wonderfully ridiculous, even if it goes a bit long, seeing Eggsy and Harry Hart (yes, the dead one) rampaging through the big bad’s retro-inspired headquarters while robots fight in the background and Elton John literally kicks bad guy butt in a marvelously sparkly feathered suit. Really you should see this movie for that alone. It is wondrous.
Next, the interactions between the core characters are as engaging as they were in the original and even improve upon relationships set up in the first movie. Any boyfriend would have reason to be nervous meeting his girl’s parents, but Eggsy’s girl? She’s Princess Tilde, having stuck with him from that infamous scene. Which means that the parents he’s meeting are the king and queen of Sweden. Talk about pressure. Likewise, Harry Hart’s return is both awesome and bittersweet – awesome because YESSS COLIN FIRTH IS BACK AND HE HAS AN EYEPATCH, bittersweet because being shot in the head does things to a person, even if the bullet only passed through the eye. In this case, it’s resulted in such incredible memory loss that he doesn’t remember being a Kingsman at all, much less the personal value he has to Eggsy and Merlin, and their attempts to get him to remember who he is are heartbreaking to watch. Even after one finally works, he’s not the Harry Hart he used to be; on a basic level, having one eye when he’s used to two throws his perception off, which complicates his combat abilities. On a deeper level, he struggles with phantoms that haunt his mind as a result of his injury, which leads Eggsy and Merlin to question his remaining abilities even if he’s still confident in them. There’s more depth in these characters than most other spy films have led me to expect of the genre.
The same cannot be said for the antagonists, which is where The Golden Circle’s flaws begin.
We learn early on that the titular Golden Circle refers to a drug cartel run by the bubbly but vicious Poppy, an accomplished businesswoman/drug dealer with such a flair for wholesome 1950s nostalgia that her secret lair in the jungle is a heavily-guarded re-creation of the fun parts of a retro town – diner, salon, bowling alley, all the essentials. This could have been a great template for an antagonist; after all, Valentine from the previous movie was similarly over-the-top, with his penchant for global murder despite his charming lisp and aversion to the sight of blood.
Poppy has none of that. When we first meet her, she tests the loyalty of an inductee to her drug ring by having him jam his still-living recruiter into a mincer and then forcing him to eat a burger made from the ground-up meat of the man. Which, admittedly, is wonderfully nuts, but also gives us as viewers nothing to like about her. I hate, hate, hate the trope of bad guys killing off minions to show How Evil They Are, because it makes one wonder how that bad guy manages to find loyal minions at all. Once Poppy states that she prefers robots to humans anyway – and apparently has access to such technology that advanced prosthetics and semi-sentient dogs and salon attendants are no big deal – it becomes clear that the only reason why Poppy even keeps human staff is for the writers to show How Evil She Is. Combine this with her actual plan, and she has no redeeming qualities, which makes her an uninteresting villain.
In her nefarious scheme, she’s poisoned the various drugs she sells with a disease that leads to a quick and miserable death. Her plot? Force the US to legalize the drug trade so that she can run her business legally, and do so by holding all the poisoned victims hostage (because possibly killing all your customers at once is a great business model). If all goes according to plan, the president signs an order legalizing the drugs, she sends the antidote out worldwide.
Except the president doesn’t, which is one of the film’s most obnoxious problems. I have never seen a man without a mustache twirl an evil mustache that hard, but this guy manages. When this president learns of the threat, his public plan is to gather the affected to field hospitals and treat them; his actual plan is to not sign Poppy’s order and just let the affected die, thereby winning the war on drugs in one fell swoop. After all, the users are just worthless druggies, right? As if we needed more emphasis on how despicable he is, the gathered victims are literally put in metal cages and stacked on top of each other. The president isn’t even a character by this point; he’s a caricature, and not a very good one at that. Like, even if a politician wanted to do that sort of thing, how could he even expect to get away with something that obvious? I mean, other possible complications aside, SOMEONE IS GOING TO NOTICE THE THOUSANDS OF CAGES BEING SENT TO FIELD HOSPITALS WITHIN THE SPACE OF A FEW DAYS AND BLOW A WHISTLE IN TWO SECONDS ON TWITTER 😐 😐 😐
*Update: …Um, 2018, when I wrote the above paragraph, I did not mean it as a challenge. 😐 😐 😐
Literally every scene with the president in it watches like an angry college student with minimal writing skills still had some election year steam to blow off and so farted their hot, wet angst all over what should have been one of my favorite movies of the year.
Those are the most egregious flaws, but they’re not the most disappointing ones. That dubious honor goes, regrettably, to the Statesman.
With the Statesman, the writers commit the biggest sin of the movie, taking one of the best and most promising parts of the trailer and criminally under-using it while reducing it to a series of caricatures (There’s a theme emerging here…). The setup for the Statesman is smart; it’s a bigger, better-equipped, bombastic organization ‘cause ‘Murica (also ‘cause sequel. Also ‘cause their cover business is whiskey, which brings in a whole lot more money than tailoring). However, the movie drops the ball almost as soon as the Statesman are introduced…which is by displaying an astonishing lack of knowledge about their role in the Kingsman’s doomsday protocol. Eggsy and Merlin almost end up set on fire by Channing Tatum (er, agent Tequila) before another agent pops in to say “oops, no, I looked in our files, they’re for real. lol sorry :P”
After that the Statesmen characters are introduced as a series of increasingly cowboyish dudes with alcohol-themed code names and so little characterization that they might have been named after whatever the writers were drinking when they created each one. The only exception is Ginger Ale, who is at least likable, but still not incredibly complex outside of a “I want to be a field agent but this one guy keeps voting me down” conflict. And she certainly doesn’t make up for the sin of introducing Channing Tatum’s nice muscles and then, no joke, PUTTING HIM IN CRYO BEFORE HE EVEN GETS TO BE AWESOME. 😐 😐 😐
If that’s not mismanagement of creative resources, I don’t know what is, but unfortunately that’s what a lot of this movie boils down to. Fortunately, that doesn’t stop it from being generally fun to experience. The most perfect example of how the film watches is a reprisal of the famous bar fight scene. The setup is absolutely stupid – a random Statesman antagonizes the Kingsman for literally no reason other than that they look prissy – and the violence that follows is wholly disproportionate to the offense given. Narratively, however, it’s brilliant, referencing Harry’s iconic scene from the first movie to show how his trauma has affected his abilities, and then transforming into a chance to show what an awesome badass new ally agent Whiskey is.
And that’s really what The Golden Circle is: a plethora of brilliant moments strung together by an equal plethora of terrible ones. The brilliant moments make it worth watching, but the others will make fans wonder why we didn’t get a movie that was as smart and tightly-plotted as The Secret Service.
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