Saturday 14 October 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) - Movie Review

Freelance agent Mahan reporting in. Mission: Complete the Experiment to quantify the success rate of Hollywood cinema, in light of recent evidence that the system may be in jeopardy. Secondary objective involving target Harvey Weinstein has been handed off to field agents, and it appears to have been successful. Target has been held accountable for their actions and the flood of corroborating intel has ensured further action will be taken. Dossier for today’s objective: Kingsman, product made by Matthew Vaughn in 2014.

Kingsman, on re-watching it in prep for today’s subject, still holds up amazingly well as an ultraviolent and remarkably clever take on the gentleman spy sub-genre, aided by great acting and an approach to action that is among the most thrilling of any action film in recent years. This is another case where, even removed from my work here on the blog, I would check this sequel out because I needs me some more Kingsman in my life. However, between the lukewarm reception this film has already gotten and the usual rule of diminishing returns with sequels, this could turn out rather badly. Time to find out.

The plot: Kingsman is dead. Their British headquarters have been destroyed by maniacal drug dealer Poppy (Julianne Moore) and it’s only the start of her plan. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), in need of assistance to stop whatever Poppy has planned next, connects with their American sister faction Statesman, run by liquor tycoon Champ (Jeff Bridges). Eggsy, Merlin and Statesman agents Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) have to work together to stop Poppy’s plan to hold the entire world at ransom. However, things are about to get complicated as they discover an old ally is still in action… sort of.

While not quite as captivating as the original cast, even considering that most of the bigger players return here, the acting here is still pretty damn good. Egerton is now completely at ease in his character’s skin, meaning we get more of the lad/lord dichotomy that made him as fun as he was before. Strong likewise fits in very nicely, and along with holding his own next to the other larger-than-life characters, he is also the centre of easily the film’s most powerful moment. I won’t dare spoil it but it is both heart-warming and incredibly badass.
Alström makes a rather unexpected return as the Swedish princess and now Eggsy’s girlfriend Tilde, no doubt a move meant to cushion the damage from her character’s actions last time, but her scenes with Egerton are very sweet and it’s nice seeing that their relationship went beyond the usual “probing for information”. Actually, the scenes where the two argue about the content of his work (which involves another and even more literal case of “probing for information”) are even better than most of the action scenes in terms of raw engagement; trust me, with this film, that is a serious feat.

Firth… is still good, but it ends up taking a fair bit of time for him to get back into the swing of things; considering my personal love for the character, that is more than a little bit disappointing. We also get a return from Charlie Hesketh, in a subplot that would feel more pointless if Edward Holcroft didn’t do as good a job with it as he did. Oh, and Elton John is here, for reasons that while making a weird amount of sense also result in the biggest mindfrags of the whole film; I approve of this man fighting robotic dogs and making jokes with Firth about “backstage passes”.
As for our American newcomers, Tatum is underutilized, Berry is okay but nothing too special, Pedro Pascal kicks eight kinds of ass and makes for some of the better action sequences, Moore as the villain fits the role but the role itself doesn’t have the same spirit as Sam Jackson’s Valentine, Bridges is way more fun than he should be as Champ with how much he acts with his bottle of liquor, and Bruce Greenwood as the U.S. President… okay, I’ll put it like this. The villain in this film is a psychotic and cannibalistic terrorist, and yet Greenwood’s character is still the vilest thing to be found here. I’d be more annoyed if he didn’t get exactly what he deserved come film’s end.

As I said in the review for The Secret Service, director Matthew Vaughn has an unparalleled approach to action scenes. With any luck, I’ll actually be able to explain why here unlike in that review (inexperience always manages to peak through, like not being able to articulate shit properly). In the action scenes themselves, he shows a real Michael Bay-esque flair with the emphasis on movement and high-flash stunt work. However, while Michael Bay seemingly never knows when enough is enough and shoots everything in his films with that same emphasis, Vaughn has the right amount of patience to let the calmer scenes feel as such.
Here, this is much of the same: Very fun, very energetic, very creative and frequently batshit action setpieces. What’s more, on top of his understanding of restraint, Vaughn and composers Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson also have a very firm handle on suspense as part of the action, with the visuals combining with the soundtrack to give that hint of a feeling that something might go wrong for our heroes. In an age of overpowered brick walls as action leads, this is immensely refreshing.

As are the music choices themselves, while I’m on the subject, with a nice selection of classic spy flick orchestration and country-western tunes for the fight scenes. Never thought that a country version of Cameo’s Word Up would be this effective, but that’s the kind of film this is. Unfortunately, some of this cuts into by the excessive run time surrounding them, given how the dialogue scenes not only don’t have the same brand of dry wit as before but also involves a lot of introduction and even reintroduction before even getting to the good stuff. Then again, once the film officially gets into its stride, it’s the kind of grinning-insanely-in-your-seat fun that I was looking for.

But how does it hold up as a direct follow-up to The Secret Service? Well, for a start, the villain’s main plot is definitely in the same spirit. *SPOILERS* Valentine wanted to save the world from destruction by culling the population through the use of mobile phones; misguided but a plan that you could realistically see working, given the human attachment to handheld technology. Poppy, on the other hand, wants to end the War On Drugs through a manufactured lethal disease; again, the growing acceptance of drugs like cannabis makes this weirdly topical, along with the general treatment of drug users. What’s more, the discussion concerning drug use juxtaposed with alcohol consumption makes for some interesting points, and the general consensus concerning the ‘morality’ of users is pretty sympathetic. Most of the points the film itself makes on the War On Drugs and the political intents behind it are damn solid, like the cartoonishly vindictive actions of the President or the admission that there are more people using recreational drugs than one might think on the surface.
Shame the scenes preceding most of this are a bit difficult to get through, and it’s down to a single reason: Harry. The way he was reintroduced into the plot is fair enough, but the fact that he spends so long getting back to where he was before and still needing to readjust to fighting after that is rather disheartening. Harry/Galahad was my favourite character from the first film, and seeing him at this initial level doesn’t exactly raise high hopes for this.

Beyond just being a solid action-comedy with a few hints of societal commentary, like with the still-unnerving church shootout, the first Kingsman was all about paying tribute to the old guard of spy flicks. The way Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman built up the mythos of the organization, its origins and its ultimate purpose, made it feel like this is a natural continuation of those films… just with more gore and surprise buttsecks. This film continues with that in a fashion, but it mainly concerns the transition between the U.K. and the U.S.. Kingsman uses umbrellas, watches and cologne bottles; Statesman uses lassos, condoms (in the most weirdly-graphic sex scene I’ve yet covered on this blog) and liquor bottles. Their tactics are different, but they spawned from the same place, both literally and thematically.
As much as James Bond has become a household name like few other spy characters have, the U.S. has pretty pulled the rug out from under it in recent years thanks to Mission: Impossible and Jason Bourne. Gone are the glory days of the gentleman spy, all suave and ready to hump anything without a Y chromosome, and instead we have the action spy, always on the run and more willing to dish out punches than witty repartee.

For the record, I’m not saying any of this as a negative: It’s just a different take on the same idea. And that is ultimately how this turns out, as a look into the intersection of British and American culture in connection to action fare and pointing out the differences and the overlap. From the transition from suit tailors to liquor distributors, to Poppy’s 50’s-influenced villain lair including burger bar and old-school film theatre, to Merlin belting out Take Me Home, Country Roads (another Channing Tatum film involving that song in a key sequence; I don’t believe in coincidence but what other rational explanation is there for this?), it’s a synthesis that turns out pretty damn well.

All in all, while honestly not as good as the first film, mainly due to the pacing and the frankly painful way that Galahad’s character starts out in the reintroduction, this still holds up remarkably well. The acting is still good, if not always noteworthy, the action is still fantastic, the music selections might actually be betterthan before, and while the writing may not carry the same spark of genre worship, it still shows a certain clarity about the real world that brings that same troubling but ultimately earnest feel as the original did. Above all else, Vaughn knows how to use vice (violence, drugs, sex, cannibalism) to both thrill and unease. It also provides a look at the common thread between gentleman spy capers and action spy capers to provide some interesting takes, resulting in a nice synthesis between the classy British operatives and the rather roguish Americans. That, and Greenwood’s rather obvious Trump analogue makes for some good Two Minutes Hate material; catharsis adds nicely to the ultraviolent gumbo that is this film as a whole.

So, what does this mean for the Experiment? Well, between this and Ninjago, it’s proven exactly what I thought it would: Nothing has changed. There’s still good movies and bad movies at about the same ratio as they’ve always been, and considering the wide breadth of releases every week globally, there will always be stuff that’s worth the coin. It’s just a matter of deciding for one’s self.

No comments:

Post a Comment