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Kingsman: The Golden Circle ••1/2

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: September 22, 2017


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(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, the men of the king are back at it again.

And it looks like the men of the States are at it too. Let’s recap:

Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), an agent of the spy organization, Kingsman, is ambushed by Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a former Kingsman who is now working for drug cartel magnate Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). Eggsy escapes but Charlie’s cybernetic arm is able to hack into Kingsman’s computer network. This allows Poppy to destroy nearly all of the Kingsman’s agents.

Only Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are left. They travel to America where their counterparts – the Statesmen – are ready to help. But it’s not long before Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) has contracted a virus implanted by Poppy in her drugs. In fact, it’s a worldwide epidemic. Poppy demands a ransom before releasing the antidote. Meanwhile, Kingsman Agent Galahad (Colin Firth) is found to be alive and joins Eggsy, Merlin, and Statesman Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) to track down the antidote before everyone dies.

Greg, I was prepared to dislike this movie, as sequels are usually inferior re-treads of the original version. Somehow, Kingsman: The Golden Circle managed to entertain me far more than it had any right to. As in the original, Golden Circle features crisp and clever dialogue and several likeable characters in Eggsy, Merlin, Galahad, and Tequila.

Two complaints I have are in the length of the movie (please, VERY few movies need to exceed two hours) and in the unnecessary zaniness. I’m reminded of the last Guardians of the Galaxy film in which David Hasselhoff, a giant pac-man, and Mary Poppins all make cameos. Here it is Elton John, butterflies, and John Denver. No doubt this film never wants us to take it seriously, and I suspect this is all part of the greater problem of this movie not really knowing who its audience is.

I think I’ve figured out who the audience is – it’s 18-25 year-old young men. As much as the film is nostalgic for the original Bond movies, it’s not mature enough to reach Bond status. The gratuitous sex and violence (there is little subtlety on either account – witness a fingering of a woman’s vagina) as well as the gore make the film too adult for children. That leaves a “sweet spot” of what writers call the “New Adult” genre.

You’ve already alluded to my problems with this film. Poppy is in love with the 1950’s – yet she’s kidnapped 1970s pop star Elton John. Why? For no rational reason. Perhaps the writer/director Matthew Vaughn simply adores Elton John and wanted him in it.

And what does Vaughn have against the United States – and Kentucky in particular? In the last film, it’s American Samuel L. Jackson who is the villain. And Colin Firth shoots up a Kentucky church filled with homophobic racists. In Golden Circle we have Julianne Moore, drugs, and (once again) a Kentucky Statesman gone bad. I found the America bashing in the first film odd. But the recurrence of the “redneck American” in this film clinched it for me – Matthew Vaughn doesn’t like Americans.

Although it is true that the “Statesman” organization in Kentucky is on the side of good, you’re right that they are portrayed as British caricatures of rural America. I’m not sure why Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges agreed to play these demeaning hillbilly roles; it seems beneath them. I will give Vaughn credit for accurately portraying Donald Trump as a ruthless profiteer.

Regarding heroic transformation, our hero Eggsy doesn’t change in this film but he does mentally transform his beloved mentor, Harry Hart. The film’s mastermind villain, Julianne Moore, is pure evil and hence doesn’t change much, either. She does, however, physically transform her minions into zesty ground meat. The sheer evil of this act is jarring against the backdrop of the movie’s comedic elements.

I think you’ve nailed it, Scott. This movie borders on parody without tipping the scales enough to make it so. The violence borders on slapstick. The action borders on farce. It’s hard to decide whether to take this film seriously or to enjoy it as comedy. There’s a point where Merlin gives up his life for our heroes. It’s hard to know how to feel about this since a commonly accepted rule of comedy is that no one really gets hurt. Yet, amid this slapstick battle, a beloved character dies. It’s a bit of a confusing mess.

As for the transformations – again you’ve hit the nail on the head. Nobody really transforms in this story. Eggsy is already an accomplished spy. Galahad is returned to normal. And everyone else ends up pretty much as they started. As we’ve noted with other films this year, transformation is not the point of comedy stories. Transformation and good storytelling give way to yucks.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fairly entertaining movie that tries hard to blend serious James Bond-like action and drama with Austin Powers-like goofiness and parody. There are some successes in this regard and some failures, resulting in an overall mixed bag that at two hours and 21 minutes is a fun but bloated ride. This is a movie that tries to be serious yet assaults us with Elton John sight gags and John Denver soundtracks. Still, the good heartfelt performances from Taron Egerton and Julianne Moore compel me to award this film 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey here is a retread of many past spy movies involving double-agents, rival spy organizations, and irredeemable villains. This installment of the nascent Kingsman franchise reveals a hero in Eggsy that is already polished and resourceful, and so there isn’t much of a journey of self-discovery and improvement for us to witness. The best hero rating I can give is 2 out of 5. As you’ve pointed out, Greg, there is little in the way of hero transformation, other than Colin Firth evolving from brain-damaged dolt to his previous brilliant self. A transformation rating of 2 Deltas out of 5 seems fitting.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a cringe-worthy attempt to match parody with drama. It is over the top in both the sex and violence categories with individuals actually getting bifurcated. The presence of Elton John is both unnecessary and distracting. I was offended by the presentation of Americans in general, and Kentuckians specifically. I give this film just 2 out of 5 Reels.

Eggsy has evolved into a true gentleman spy – much like Bond before him. I like where they’ve taken him. And he is actually more honorable than Bond as he is in a committed relationship and hesitates to use his manly charms without permission from his woman. I give Eggsy 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The film didn’t leave much in the way of transformation for any of the characters. I can only muster 1 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

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