Sequels seem to be getting a little better lately; this year saw John Wick 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 build upon the world and politics that their predecessors created, and used the foundations of their strong characters to go somewhere new. In one of the biggest surprises of the year, Kingsman: The Golden Circle actually does that too; it develops the politics of the original film, and fixes some of the snags that came up in the first film. But, best of all it’s just so much fun!
I had two big issues with Kingsman: The Secret Service. The first is its tone, in its final act brutal depictions of mass mania and violence are cut between an over the top fight choreographed to disco music. It is a bit weird. The new film mostly resolves that issue, focusing much more on the humour. There’s also a mostly forgettable subplot about the main character Eggsy’s relationship with the European Princess from the end of the first film, but it doesn’t get in the way too much. A more interesting emotional subplot revolves around the return of Colin Firth’s agent Galahad the trailers spoiled the surprise of his survival, but there’s more to it that I won’t spoil here. Thankfully, the focus for most of the film is its stylish action and over the top, tongue in cheek world, and it pays dividends throughout.
That stylish action begins immediately, after we practically open on a car chase and fist fight set to Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, complete with robot arms and London cabs becoming submarines. It’s over the top, but it knows it’s over the top, and just has fun with it. All of the films action is similarly difficult to not enjoy. Then there’s the Statesmen, the American counterpart to the British elegance of the Kingsmen. After almost every Kingsman establishment is attacked by the bad guy (we’ll get to her), Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) make their way to the Statesmen brewery/secret agency in Kentucky, and are greeted by cowboys and thick, stereotypical accents that are far too animated to not be a little funny. The cast for the Statesmen are similarly overly American; Jeff Bridges as leader Agent Champagne, Channing Tatum as Agent Tequila, Pedro Pascal as Whiskey. It’s cartoonish and dumb, but so is every other aspect of this world.
The second issue is the first film’s troubling politics. The bad guy is a climate change activist, and the whole film paints climate change activism as some nefarious scheme with dark ulterior motives. It thankfully doesn’t really do anything with that point, but it’s there and it’s uncomfortable. At first, The Golden Circle seems to tread similarly shaky ground; our antagonist Polly, played by with campy 50’s brilliance by Julie-Anne Moore, runs the world’s largest drug cartel (the Golden Circle; hey, that’s the movie title!). What could have been a very straightforward (and dull) anti-drug use point actually becomes a great discussion about the demonetization of drug users. Ultimately, Polly’s end is just to end the war on drugs. Her plot to do so puts millions of lives at risk , but she’s willing to spare them in service of her end. The real threat comes from the President, played by Bruce Greenwood in an obvious Bush pastiche. He’s perfectly willing to let these people die; ‘This Presidency just won a war on drugs!’ he decrees, as his assistant makes the obvious point that not all drug users are criminals, or ‘scum’. It’s blunt and it’s heavy handed, but it’s got a surprising amount of nuance that the first film lacked.
One of the biggest draws of the first film was its actions sequences, but an audience that’s seen John Wick and Baby Driver is much harder to please. The Golden Circle changes up its action style, and really emphasizes the spirited fun. There are some great set pieces here that are just absurd, but handled brilliantly and entertainingly. Robot dogs, an electrified lasso, and plenty of slow motion keep the action exciting by virtue of its tongue in cheek excess. The comedy too is much funnier this time around, helped in large part to the single greatest celebrity cameo I have ever seen. I’m not even going to tell you who it is. But it’s brilliant. Yes, even better than David Bowie’s appearance in Zoolander.
Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fantastic effort, and an actual improvement upon the first film. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, but it really is a standout film in a year packed with standout films. Again, I cannot stress this enough: the greatest celebrity cameo of all time.