History is replete with the spoils of cinematic spies; resources and gadgets are ready at an instant; beautiful locales, venomous villains and gorgeous ladies on tap. James Bond was fashionable, Steve Rogers was symbolic, Austin Powers was hip, Derek Flint was cool, Ethan Hunt is grace under pressure. And then there was Eggsy Unwin, the unwitting street thug turned superspy. He returns to theaters in Matthew Vaughn’s farcical Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
Each of the aforementioned superspies were successful because their creators managed to put their characters in the middle of timely stories; they reflected the challenges that faced modern society while the actor inhabiting the role brought a certain braggadocio and swagger that made the performance ultra-cool for swooning audiences looking for an escape.
Vaughn has successfully delivered on this formula in the past, most notably X-Men: First Class and to an extent, the Kingsman’s previous outing, 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. The story there gave our future hero, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) an identity thanks to a life-oath sworn to between his dad and Harry Hart (Colin Firth). The bond that Jane Goldman and Vaughn created worked so well because it was about polishing the street-wise punk, making him realizing his potential; a proverbial rags-to-riches story. And, as much as it was The Secret Service’s script, Egerton and Vaughn are an exceptional duo when it comes to films. See the melodrama Eddie the Eagle for a solid example of the actor-director’s teamwork.
In the over-long The Golden Circle, Eggsy is back, more polished with just a wink of his former street-wise life. In the opening frame, he demonstrates how well he can handle himself in a defensive situation, thwarting a former Kingsman applicant (Edward Holcroft). In the next frame, we see him with his girlfriend, Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) and his street-wise punk friends, establishing that he hasn’t fallen too far from his original tree, but he’s sprouting new leaves. Of course, he’s wiser as evidenced by the snarky, expletive-laden commentary throughout the course of the film.
Following a disaster that all but decimates the Kingsman, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) find themselves turning to bourbon and their American brethren, the Statesman. Here, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal and Halle Berry come to the Kingsman’s rescue, and unless you live under a cinematic rock, the next part will not be a shock: Harry returns from the dead. Vaughn and Goldman go to great lengths to explain how this is possible. This plot instrument is valuable in a sequence later in the film, but it’s an instrument that wears its welcome.
As spy networks cross, a sinister plot lurks around the other side of the globe with a deliciously evil Poppy Adams played by Julianne Moore. Moore’s performance is a highlight of the film, her pitch-perfect villainy was enough to make Blofeld blush. Except Charles Gray’s turn in Diamonds Are Forever. That’s a story for another time. Sadly, Moore’s presence on the screen is marred towards the end of the third act, but it isn’t enough to make you dismiss her character completely. Bruce Greenwood puts on his stately manner as the President of the United States and gives us a good show.
What troubles me about The Golden Circle is that I was left to wander off in my own thoughts during a key action sequence, partially because it was Bond-lite; something I’ve seen so many times. The parallel characters between the two spy organization are so similar, they seemed unnecessary, which is why it is a shame that neither Jeff Bridges nor Channing Tatum had too much to do in this film. What managed to bring the film around for me was a quote by Winston Churchill, uttered by Harry Hart. I won’t recite it here, but you’ll know it when you hear it.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, the film is timely, even if it is over-the-top. Several strong character moments, specifically between Egerton and Strong support the film’s premise. Its length and distracting antics don’t always work. Rest assured, Vaughn, Eggsy, Harry and the rest of the team will be back. Your box office dollars will ensure that.
Now in theaters, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is rated R by the MPAA.