Why Kingsman: The Golden Circle Doesn’t Work

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is kind of really broken. Which is weird, because it really shouldn’t be. It got the same writing team and director back, all of the cast return, they have a host of new characters played by celebrated and incredibly talented actors-it takes a hell of a lot of effort to balls this up. And yet balls it up they did.

Now, this could be due to the fact that the entire premise of the first movie was kind…well, it was resolved in the first movie. From scouser to suave, there’s little wiggle room for this premise which was a pastiche on the spy genre to begin with. Still, a creative team could have done something better than what we got, because what we got was…well it’s easier to explain in some stupid, Cinemasins-style nitpicking. Because it’s not the whole show where Golden Circle fails, it’s the tiny performances.

So, with no holds barred on spoilers SERIOUSLY I’M GIVING THIS MOVIE AT 4/10 IF YOU’RE CURIOUS I WILL SPOIL EVERY ASPECT OF THIS FILM AND MAYBE A FEW MOMENTS FROM THE ORIGINAL WHERE IT IS NECESSARY YOU HAVE BEEN SUFFICIENTLY WARNED I HOPE, let’s go into why Kingsman: The Golden Circle doesn’t work:

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-We are immediately thrust into an action sequence. I get that this is a common trope for action fare, but we barely get any establishment on anything before opening beat. Even low-grade Bond knock-offs add a *little* build-up before thrusting us into the fray.

-This is mostly because the film is banking on you remembering Charlie, the rival from the first film, who returns as an arch henchman for the villain. They show you how he looked without his head shaved, and that’s all you get. As someone who watched the original Kingsman, and easily recognised Eggsy, I had no fucking clue who this guy was and the impact of his being alive was utterly lost.

-The scene itself is well-handled, Matthew Vaughn is nothing if not a really creative action director. But this chase scene through London drags on and on and it’s really damn hard to stay invested.

-Part of the plan of our main villain is to hack into Kingsman’s data files and track and kill their agents. This is accomplished by having Charlie’s robot arm (I’ll get into how he lost his arm later) getting in Eggsy’s car to hack its computer. How it does this, however, is because during the fight scene, Charlie tried to hold on during a crash and the impact caused the arm to tear out of his socket. This was completely by chance, and lucky that Eggsy just didn’t notice the arm hanging there when he left the car (I know they brush this off as him being distracted by his mate’s birthday, but it’s still stupid).

-Eggsy is seeing the Swedish princess from the first movie. It’s kind of interesting, but I’m imagining this only really happened due to the backlash the anal joke at the end got. As it stands, she’s about as undercooked a character as she was in the last film, except it’s a huge issue for the story here.

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-Eggsy has a random extended flashback of Harry teaching him how to use cutlery, right after he looks at his stuffed dog teary eyed. The latter is for a plot point later on, but the flashback and Eggy’s emotional reaction is kind of overkill. You need one or the other to establish that he misses his mentor, you don’t need both.

-We have an extended exposition scene where we find out about the Golden Circle, and are introduced to Michael Gambon as Kingsman’s new head Sir Giles. Do not get used to him.

-Probably Kingsman: The Golden Circle’s biggest issue is that it has a massive cast and cannot balance them properly. We have nearly all the actors from the previous film , plus the Statesmen team AND the villains AND the President subplot. This is perfectly exemplified in the introduction scene for Poppy Adams, the main villain and head of the Golden Circle, who convinces a new recruit to her drug empire to murder his friend as a proof of loyalty. The movie acts like he’s going to have a significant role because of this, but killed off in a really throwaway moment because he partied with Elton John. This may be due to Charlie being the main henchman, and he was already introduced in the opening beat, but this is still such a pointless waste all to set up that your main villain is ruthless.

-Going back to Poppy, they establish her as having a monopoly on the international drug trade. Like, fucking all of it. Even by the ridiculousness of the Kingsman universe, that’s a massive stretch. But it’s not as stupid as her plan, which we will get into later.

-Poppy Adams’ lair is Poppy Land, a 1950’s-style block of buildings located within Cambodia, fitted with robot fashion designers/killers and robot dogs. This location is fun, creative and totally makes our villain stand out from the previous one. And we spend no time there whatsoever. Even at the end, we visit, like, three areas, and most of it is spent at the diner that serves as Poppy’s base.

-Back to the Kingsman, Eggsy’s dinner with the King and Queen of Sweden is cute, if not a terribly overdone moment as he’s being fed information to impress his girlfriend’s parents. This entire bit is only here as a plot point and we do not see these characters again until the ending, so it’s really not entertaining enough to justify itself.

-So let’s move onto the inciting incident; the Golden Circle use the hack to send missiles to the locations of the Kingsman agents and wipe them out. While it certainly makes the villain a threat, the consequence of this is minimised by the existence of Statesman. Narratively, the only consequence is losing a few characters and give us less of them to focus on, but I feel the ones we lost hurt the film in the long run.

-It’s a shame to bring in a great actor like Michael Gambon just to kill him off like that. His loss is of really little consequence, I just like the actor.

-Before Eggsy’s home is bombed, one of his friends is dogsitting and finds his spy gadgets and information. This could have been a really interesting road for the movie to go down, but instead that tease is literally blown up in our faces as the character is killed ten seconds later. Also they killed the pug. Bastards.

-Easily the biggest loss is Sophie Cookson’s Roxy. She was probably one of the better developed characters in the last movie, and I felt she had potential to be a little more here. Unfortunately, she’s brought back just so they kill her off in a shock moment, despite leaving wiggle room to suggest she may have escaped she never comes back. This is a waste of one of the only well-developed female characters of the series. What’s worse is that all of the above are basically forgotten about once the plot starts rolling.

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-Merlin, Mark Strong’s tech expert, survived because Kingman don’t keep his home on their database. This super-secret spy agency with a bigger likelihood for turncoats than a Bond girl does doesn’t have background info on their non-field staff. Sure.

-So I should probably talk about Elton John. Poppy Adams took advantage of celebrities disappearing in the events of the last movie to kidnap Elton John and force him to perform for her. This could have been a funny one-off bit, and him swearing her out in the commercial she plays revealing her plan is probably one of the funniest moments in the movie, but they continue to have him just be in the film for some reason? He even helps Harry save the day later on and has a really daft freeze frame moment. This wouldn’t be too bad, but it doesn’t help that he’s not that good an actor, and this whole thing feels ridiculously self-indulgent.

-Okay, we’ve talked about how the Kingsman were wasted (sans Eggsy, Harry and Merlin). Now let’s go into how wasted the Statesman are! Channing Tatum is the first one introduced and even has an extended moment where he threatens to kill Eggsy and Merlin when he thinks they’re working against him. We get this big song and dance building this character up…and the movie LITERALLY puts him on ice because he gets sick! I’m not kidding, he’s gone for nearly all of the rest of the film.

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-Hally Berry plays their tech girl Ginger Ale, and while she’s in the movie a lot more, she doesn’t get to do a lot outside of fill a role already filled in by Merlin. We also have Jeff Bridges as Statesman’s head Champagne, who I think has 2 or 3 scenes. The only character with any real prominence is Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey, who has issues all on his own. These are all great actors, and outside of Pascal are utterly wasted in these parts. And no, I don’t care that Vaughn wants to do a spin-off movie with them.

-Okay, so this is where we find out that Harry is alive. While I think this reveal completely undercuts a lot of Eggsy’s growth in the last film, I will say that how Harry is brought back really stretches credulity. It also really lessens the impact of death in this world, even if they did this to bring back a popular character.

-Speaking of weird ways they bring characters back, apparently Eggsy shocked Charlie when fighting him at Valentine’s lair in the last film. This caused the chip that prevented him from going crazy like the rest of the world to malfunction, which stopped his head exploding like the rest. That’s fine. But it also destroyed his vocal chords and arm. O…kay…

-So Kingsman tends to do ‘tributes’ to the previous movie in really unsubtle ways. Now, there’s nothing wrong with referencing prior films in a franchise, but these are aggressively in your face and seem to make it out to be a bigger worldwide phenomenon than it actually was. Referencing the stuff with Valentine as a plot point, fine. Bringing back the water trap, shooting the dog and the pub fight, with very little in terms of variation? Tad on the nose is all I’m saying.

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-Okay, the fingering thing. I can’t really add much to this-I get what they were going for, similar to the anal joke which I also felt was tone deaf. Highlight the misogyny inherit to the spy genre for a cheap laugh, okay. It’s still kind of sleazy and more than a little misguided, even if the whole thing is that Eggsy doesn’t want to do it (though not because it’s, well…pretty gross). It didn’t bother me that much, I can totally understand why it would bother you.

-I will show credit where I think it’s due; I do like the scene where Eggsy gets Harry’s memory back. It probably happens a bit too early and it can be hyperbolic at times, but it’s a clever callback (if overly foreshadowed) and really well acted by Colin Firth and Taron Edgerton.

-I want to combine the last two points made into another huge one for Kingsman: Eggsy really doesn’t have an arc. They try to have him deal with his girlfriend (he calls her to let her know he’s about to finger a girl for a mission) and with Harry’s memory loss, but the former is really hard to have any investment in as his girlfriend is barely brought up after he goes to America, and the latter resolves itself before the movie is even halfway through. They address what the arc should be later on, but it doesn’t ring true for the plot and there’s very little to invest in. Characters do have some internal goals they want to achieve, but none of them are given any time to develop as the film is just too overstuffed to handle any of it.

-A perfect example of this is Harry’s partial mental daze after his memories return. We see this in the ridiculously indulgent subversion of the pub fight from the first movie, and it pops up again to add tension for the mountainside mission. And it’s never resolved at all, only used to justify Harry’s distrust of Whiskey being fabricated. And he turns out to be right so yeah he just…gets…better.

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-I’ve been avoiding the villains for a while, so let’s get back to them. Poppy Adams has spiked ALL THE DRUGS to create an incredibly dangerous disease that will kill them all if the President of the United States doesn’t agree to make all drugs legal. Just the President of the US, mind you-she doesn’t seem to address any other country. Also, leaving a lot up to chance; you murder your entire consumer base if they refuse, or just don’t answer in time-at least Valentine just needed to gather a select amount of people and relied on the mindless violence to wipe out the few who wouldn’t buy his app. Also, wouldn’t legalising drugs cause them to be regulated and create competition? You have managed to monopolise the drug trade…somehow, why risk that?

-Oh, want more fucking characters? Let’s introduce the US President played by Bruce Greenwood, and his Chief of Staff played by Emily Watson, in the second half of the movie! Yeah, think this was their awkward stab at Trump like the one for Obama in the last movie-‘cept the latter was barely in the film and didn’t take away from the focus. There is a subplot here about how the US President wants to use the virus to kill the drug users, while his Chief of Staff (who seems kind of designed like Hillary Clinton??) wants to stop, you know, mass murder. It’s awkward, pointless, really out of nowhere and drags on the sluggish pace of this nearly 2-and-a-half-hour movie.

-Also, it’s a strangely anti-drug message to get across. I mean, the President is clearly the villain for wanting people to die, but it’s surprisingly black and white on the whole legalise drug issue, which isn’t black and white. The commentary on Kingsman: The Secret Service was a bit anti-climate change, but it’s more minutely stated considering this villain’s entire plan is to end the drug war. I dunno-I’ll admit I could be reaching, it just rubbed me the wrong way.

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-No real complaints about the mountain scene, outside of the development of other stupid subplots (Harry’s mental issues and his random distrust of Whiskey) and the stupid ass joke they end the set piece on. It’s creative and well shot.

-Though it’s also ultimately pointless, outside of Harry shooting Whiskey in the head and putting him out of commission until he comes back as the surprise final villain at the end, but whatever.

-There’s a small scene where Ginger Ale talks about always wanting to be a field agent but being blocked by Whiskey, and Merlin saying he prefers being on the sidelines looking in. I only bring this up because 1. It’s the only bit of characterisation Ginger Ale is allowed, and 2. Merlin is put into the field, and oh man is it a fucking letdown of epic proportions.

-I really dig the scene with Harry and Eggsy just discussing their lives as Kingsman interfering with their personal lives. It’s well written, the camera carries the emotion and the actors are given room to let the moment breathe. It’s also a rather sad insight into what this film could have been had the script been focused on something rather than letting every random idea force its way into the proceedings. Even with my complaining about bringing Harry back, this shows just how invaluable Colin Firth is to these films and he has excellent chemistry with Taron Edgerton.

-So Merlin is put on the field…five minutes later he’s stepping on a mine to save Eggsy and doesn’t have any way to avoid his death. What a fucking waste of a fun idea; even if it wouldn’t make sense that his character would magically know how to fight or really handle himself, his tech know-how being put on display in battle could have added some interesting layers to the finale. Oh well-as hammy as his death scene is, I do love that Mark Strong just goes for it.

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-Speaking of his death scene. So, this is the fourth movie this year to prominently feature a John Denver song (Free Fire, Alien: Covenant, Logan Lucky are the other three), the third to feature Country Roads (Alien: Covenant and Logan Lucky), and the second featuring Channing Tatum to have the song sung by one of the characters as the emotional centrepiece of the final act (Logan Lucky). This isn’t a criticism, it’s just a really weird coincidence.

-Most of the rest of the movie is just straight up action -some of it’s good, some of it really doesn’t do a lot for me. everything involving the robot dogs is fun outside of Elton John. Charlie is killed here, and I still don’t care about his character.

-So, Whiskey is the secret bad guy. Because his wife and unborn child were killed by drug addicts, he wants to wipe the world of them. This motivation is introduced about five minutes before this heel turn. It’s about as unnatural and forced as it sounds. This is basically to vindicate Harry and that’s it. Though I really like the final fight, and how Whiskey’s lasso is incorporated into it. Subtle way to use the same kind of camera work from the church fight in the original, though nowhere near as good of course.

-Eggsy marries into Swedish royalty, and Ginger Ale takes Whiskey’s place as a Statesman. Both these feel incredibly unearned, so despite one development obviously being more important than the other, I’m lumping them both in here. I mean, if the film can rush through all this shit, so can I!

-Also the wedding scene is the only appearance in the film of Eggsy’s mother. considering how important his family was in the last film, almost the heart of the movie, I think that speaks for itself.

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So yeah. Just watch Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s the same, but better.

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