RECAP: Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Matthew Vaughn
The surprise action hit of 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service spawned a sequel from the same director and writers. What if the US had a private secret service? Well, you’re about to find out.
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: An American drug queen pin annihilates the Kingsman, forcing the Brits to join their American counterparts the Statesman.
Eggsy, code name Galahad (Taron Egerton) opens Kingsman: The Golden Circle in trouble. He steps out of the tailor’s shop that fronts the organization to find an old friend named Charlie (Edward Holcroft). Turns out Charlie is bad, because pretty soon he’s trying to kill Eggsy with his robotic arm (and his regular arm).
After a smoking intro, Eggsy gets the best of Charlie and returns to a Kingsman safe house beneath Hyde Park. And that’s good, because he’s got a date tonight with his girlfriend, Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström), and his mates for a birthday party.
Eggsy has to choose what’s important to him in this sequel. He’s living a double life, because his friends don’t know who he is, but, more importantly, his girlfriend’s parents, the King and Queen of Sweden, don’t know either. Nor does Kingsman officially know he has a a girlfriend, which is against the organization’s rules. Later, Eggsy will have to sleep with a woman–for the nation, of course–against his girlfriend’s wishes.
That’s plenty for a spy to handle, but Eggsy does a swell job. He’s on top of his work in every scene, ready to do what is needed to save the world, and saving the world is just what’s at stake.
A surprise missile attack destroys Kingsman headquarters, its secret locations, and the homes of most of its agents. Eggsy, dining with the royal family, and Merlin (Mark Strong) are the only survivors of the attack. Eggsy wants time to weep for his mates, but Merlin won’t let him. That raises a question, is Eggsy too emotional for spy craft?
I don’t think so, but he might be the most honest spy in history. Part of his mission calls for him to place a tracker on a sexy festival goer. This tracker must be applied to a mucus membrane. The easiest way, perhaps, is through her vagina. Before engaging in relations, Eggsy calls his girlfriend to ask for permission. He kind of proposes to her in the process. Just like a princess dreams.
In the field, Eggsy is as good as ever. His martial skills have skyrocketed since we last saw him. He can fight close quarters and with a range of weapons. No problems there. Eggsy’s Achilles heel, however, is his attachment to his mentor Harry (Colin Firth).
Harry is found alive and amnesiac, thanks to a brain-saving technique pioneered by Statesman. Eggsy can’t let his old friend and father figure spend his life thinking he’s a lepidopterist. When Harry comes back, he supersedes Eggsy in the film’s interest. That’s a problem.
Perhaps the richest and most successful woman in the world is an American drug dealer named Poppy (Julianne Moore). Her drug cartel earned $250 billion last fiscal year, and no one knows her name. She’s stuck living in a Cambodia jungle.
Despite the ruins, Poppy’s added touches from her youth. She grew up in the heyday of 1950s nostalgia, and her lair is full of such shops. For example, Poppy holds court in a shiny diner.
We first meet Poppy when she’s testing a new employee. Poppy, all sunshine and lollipops, earns your allegiance with her charm. False charm. She tells her new employee that she demands total obedience. To prove his, the new guy must put the old guy, one of his friends, into a meat grinder, which he does, and then Poppy makes the new guy eat a human cheeseburger.
Wow. Poppy is insane. Or, she’s not and only evil. Yes. Also, she wants fame. Money’s no issue. Her big plan is to kill millions of drug users, with her drugs, until all drug use is legalized. The movie frames legal drug use (alcohol, tobacco, sugar) as addictive and profitable. Poppy wants a taste of that.
To get her point across, Poppy inserts a powerful virus into all her drugs. Worldwide, users are infected with a blue rash, which at first is cool, but later will turn to mania, paralysis, and death as their organs burst and bleed out. It’s a plan made best by someone with “superficial charm” who “lacks empathy.” Poppy has “all the ingredients of a great CEO, or psychopath.”
When not torturing new goons or battling the world with a super virus, Poppy lives amongst robots. She has two cute attack dogs named Bennie and Jet, a stylist robot with fake blonde hair and a grenade launcher, and an army of drones ready to deliver the virus antidote should the leaders of the world legalize drugs.
Julianne Moore injects Poppy with plenty of charm. She might ask you to grind up a live human, but you just want to do it because she’s so damn smiley about it. Those qualities mentioned earlier show up in her limited screen time.
Everything one needs to know about the Kingsman franchise can be seen in the opening action sequence. Vaughn loves a single-take fight scene, and in The Golden Circle he turns them up to 11.
Eggsy, ambushed on the street by Charlie, fights him inside a cab driven by a Kingsman driver. All the cinematic styles are on display inside the cab. First, camera tracking. The camera follows each fight move as if magnetically attached to the moving body part or weapon. Charlie, gun drawn, fires a round as Eggsy shoves the hand away. They both bash each other into the glass partition.
Second, pop songs. Prince yelps over this scene with “Let’s Go Crazy” that’s turned on when Eggsy’s head smashes into the radio. More gun play and shots fired and glass breaking. Eggsy disarms the gun and pops out the chambered round.
Third, a twisty camera. The camera spins and twirls to frame the key moments. Eggsy wraps a leg around Charlie’s head, tries and fails to electrically shock his neck, opens the door, and throws him toward the street. It doesn’t work because…
Fourth, body modification. Charlie’s right arm is robotic. It’s sparking the asphalt as the cab turns right and is trailed by three SUVs. Eggsy, surprised but prepared, finds a gun stored in the car’s console and shoots it at Charlie, whose metal hand blocks every round until the gun is empty. He grips the gun barrel and twists it out of Eggsy’s hands, then throws Eggsy around the cab, the camera moving how Eggsy moves. Pretty soon the hero has his back inches from the moving street. That leads us to…
Fifth, heavily CGI-ed moments at high speed. Eggsy hangs on the open cab door as a car approaches. Screaming “Fuck!” he lets go the door and lands atop the car. The actor appears real, but nothing else does. Charlie drags him back inside.
Sixth, an insane-looking stunt. Eggsy is dragged into the car while turned upside down. Looks dangerous. Pretty soon he’s beaten out of the car and, the broken car door his sled, slides on the road while gripping the car’s trunk. As a trailing SUV tries to crush him, Eggsy flips into the open trunk.
Seventh, a Kingsman has a trick up his sleeve. Or, rather, in his shoe. A blade protrudes from Eggsy’s Oxford shoe to cut through the seat. Charlie pulls him out and dodges the shoe blade. Charlie catches Eggsy’s leg and slices off the blade, which jams into the driver’s neck, killing him. The car smashes into a stanchion after Eggsy has anticipated the blow, allowing him to brace his body. Charlie does not notice, and he flies through the windshield, somehow surviving.
I figured the sequence to be over, but it’s not. Eggsy takes the wheel and converts the cab to drift mode. The tires spin out and they don’t stop for anything. The car slides sideways somehow and does a figure-eight around a statue plinth to evade the three SUVs.
The SUVs all have miniguns that pop out of their roofs and pepper the cab. Cars are getting out of the way, by their choice or not. An overhead shot captures Eggsy sliding through a 180-degree turn at about 90kph and for 100 yards. Then, his tires shot, he smashes into Hyde Park.
With some cover, Eggsy fires a rocket that turns into three rockets and kills the trailing vehicles. To evade the bobbies, Eggsy drives into the Serpentine, which has a Kingsman entry point.
Harry Hart is dead. Or so we thought. Most folks who get shot in the eyeball, as Harry was by Samuel L. Jackson in the first movie, die immediately. Not so in the world of Kingsman.
A flashback shows that after Harry’s demise, an alert tech jockey codenamed Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) alerted the crack team of Statesman to Harry’s position, chartering a helicopter to fly to the scene and apply something called alpha gel, a liquid applicant that rebuilds brain cells. The medical miracle gives life to the should-be-dead, but in most cases regresses their memory.
Thus it’s quite a shock when Eggsy and Merlin find their mentor and friend shaving his chin behind a slab of one-way glass in Kentucky. It’s a bigger shock when they find Harry has no memory of them. He wants to be a lepidopterist, as Harry had wanted before joining the army on his path to Kingsman.
All he needs is a great shock to jolt his recent identity. Eggsy is the man to provide it. He drives to a pet store and buys a puppy that resembles Harry’s beloved Mr. Pickle, gives the dog to Harry, and threatens to shoot it. That does the trick, and soon Harry is back to his Kingsman ways.
Except he’s not. He still hallucinates butterflies, an after effect of the alpha gel. He can’t shoot straight either, and is generally a liability in the field for days after his release. He tries to reenact the pub beatdown scene from the first film, only to miss throwing a mug and getting beat down in a moment. These problems are cleared, of course, by the finale. And despite the hallucinations, Harry still provides Eggsy with a moral compass and direction. “Having something to lose,” Harry says, in light of Eggsy’s girlfriend being near death, “makes life worth living.”
Merlin makes the most heroic act of the film. As big a fan of country music as he is poor at singing it, Merlin survives Poppy’s missile attacks because his address wasn’t on the Kingsman registry. (Eggsy survives because he was dining with Sweden’s royal family.)
Merlin forces Eggsy to stay grounded in the moment. “Remember your training,” is a common mantra. Don’t get emotional; there’s too much at stake right now. Eggsy, a sucker for strong male leaders, dries those tears right up.
Merlin provides tech support, of course, but his finest hour comes in the Cambodian jungle a few yards outside Poppy’s compound. Eggsy steps on a land mine, the terrifying click of the arming trigger the most frighting sound in a battle. Merlin busts out a special freezing spray that will hold the trigger in place for a split-second, enough to let Eggsy remove his foot. He does, and immediately Merlin steps on the mine. Split-second’s over, he says. Eggsy and Harry will survive, but Merlin won’t.
Eggsy won’t leave, until Merlin again tells him to remember his training. The spies run for cover as Merlin belts out “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in the most mangled voice possible, drawing in the five guards protecting the door to Poppyland. Merlin head butts one and kills the other four when he lets off the mine. It’s a nice sendoff if a horrible piece of singing.
The other sidekicks are the Statesman. Ginger plays the biggest part, a tech gal eager to get into the field, but she’s always voted down by Whiskey. Channing Tatum plays Tequila in a few scenes, but his character, afflicted with the blue rash, is literally on ice for a third of the runtime. Nevertheless, Tequila steals the movie during the virus’s mania phase when he dances the hell out of a song in his head. Add Jeff Bridges as Champ Payne and you get…hang on, huh?
Don’t look now, but Kingsman: The Golden Circle has Colin Firth, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, and Julianne Moore. That’s FOUR Oscar winners for Best Actor/Actress. Here’s the only two other movies ever made with the same bona fides: The Godfather and The Godfather:Part II. Even Elton John has won an Oscar, and he’s got a role in this.
Poppy recruits only people who follow her orders to the letter. Charlie, a Kingsman reject, appears to be one of those guys. Charlie is the first bad guy to appear, holding up Eggsy outside the tailor’s and forcing him into a big fight to open the film. Charlie’s got a robotic arm, courtesy of Poppy, which he loses in the fight but serves a higher purpose, hacking Kingsman and all its agents’ locations. Poppy uses the information to kill about everyone in the service. Charlie only wants his hands on Eggsy, or his meat hand and metallic hand, and he gets plenty of chances in the climactic fight.
The other henchman turns out to be Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). A loyal member of Statesman, perhaps he turns out to be too loyal. When he realizes Poppy’s plan to murder all the drug users of the world, he realizes that the share price of Statesman liquor will skyrocket. Loyalty to the bottom line, that’s what Whiskey believes, even if millions will die for it.
He sure can fight, though. Armed with dual pistols of seemingly unlimited ammo and a electrified whip, Whiskey can beat down a bar full of homophobes as Harry once did in a English pub, and perhaps better. He can lasso a knife handle–in midair, mind you–and use it to stab a guy in the chest. He can also fly an F-22. Dude’s got skills, and only two Kingsman are enough to grind his plans to a halt.
I mentioned the driving earlier. And the fighting. Whiskey proves especially adept with a whip/lasso, but how much of his moves were stunts?
No matter. Kingsman: The Golden Circle displays excellent fights. The jerky, tracking camera moves give the fights a choreographed style, sure, but the moves are terrific.
The best stunt in the movie is Channing Tatum dancing and then falling down as he passes out.
After Merlin’s heroic sacrifice, Harry and Eggsy must force Poppy to release the antidote. First, they have to get to her by killing all her guards. The lads start things off with a little baseball. Eggsy pitches a baseball grenade to Harry, who hits it perfectly into a large donut. Harry shows excellent form for someone who can’t aim well and has probably never swung a baseball bat and is a British twat.
They enter Poppyland behind Harry’s bulletproof umbrella, taking fire from several parties, many dressed in ’50s nostalgia garb–waiters and barbers and such. The baseball grenade explodes, sending the donut rolling onto the ground. Eggsy’s briefcase, now a machine gun, fires through the donut hole as it rolls sideways.
A bad guy dressed as a bellhop runs in with a bazooka and takes aim. Eggsy, not to be outgunned, fires a missile from his briefcase that strikes the bazooka, exploding it and the charming sweets cart behind it, and a bunch of bad guys.
Meanwhile, two guards are hassling Elton John at his piano. “Fuck off,” Sir Elton tells one, “or I’ll fuck you up.” Elton karate kicks a dude in his face, showing tremendous flexibility for a septuagenarian.
Harry uses his umbrella to snatch a machine gun that he uses to shoot some guys. Two goons run and hide beside the salon. Harry shoots the giant pair of scissors sign above them, and, of course, the blades impale both bad guys. If you’re going to die, at least make it unique.
Eggsy, using a handgun, flips around a goon to shoot dead another one. He and Harry reconvene as the makeover robot enters the fray with a grenade launcher. It fires three shells. As they arc through the sky, Harry fires a rotating magnetic whip that corrals the grenades–in midair, mind you–and returns them to sender. The robot explodes.
The guards are dead, and Poppy, for the first time, is nervous. She sends Charlie away with the pink briefcase laptop that will control the antidote release. Eggsy chases Charlie as Harry deals with Poppy, or, rather, Harry deals with the two robot attack dogs. Harry shoots one dog. The dog chews up the bullet and attacks the umbrella.
Meanwhile, Charlie, who lost his robotic arm in the first action sequence, has a new and improved model, which literally has go-go-gadget capabilities. He shoots out his fist to menace Eggsy as the two fight for control of the laptop.
Bowling becomes the theme of the fight, as Harry runs into the bowling alley and Charlie beats Eggsy outside of it. It’s looking bad for our heroes. The dog chews through a bowling pin and Charlie uses his awesome arm to flip and twirl Eggsy, throwing him into a storefront. A bowling ball rolls to Charlie, who picks it up and starts spinning it.
But hey, guess what? The heroes have some tricks up their sleeves and some friends in the right places. Eggsy touches his watch, which hacks Charlie’s arm, starting a game of Stop Hitting Yourself. Harry is saved by Elton John, who steps in front of him. Elton, you’ll recall, is classified as “friend” by the dogs. Harry uses Elton as a shield to smash the dog with a bowling ball. They tag team the job.
Charlie is forced to detach his body from his arm. “We’re not done yet,” he says. Eggsy offers to fight fairly, with one arm. They fight. Eggsy shoulder charges Charlie to get the upper hand, then does some neat flips and such to get on top of Charlie. “I’m more of a gentleman than you’ll ever be,” he says. As he has Charlie in a headlock, he runs through a list of names he’s doing this for. Then he breaks Charlie’s neck.
Back in the diner, the Kingsman agents demand Poppy enter the password. She refuses, so they try Plan B, injecting Poppy with a dose of her own heroin, a sped-up version that will kill her in about eight minutes. What’s the code? “Viva Las Vegan.” Then she asks Harry to “come snuggle with me.” Then she faints dead, overdosed.
Well everything’s all well and good–Not. So. Fast. It’s Whiskey, his brain repaired from the headshot Harry gave him earlier. Turns out the old chap was right, Whiskey broke bad. But why? “A world without those people sure smells like peace to me,” Whiskey says. He also knows that Statesman’s share price will skyrocket if millions of drug users die and millions more don’t trust the drugs on the market. Also his beloved was pregnant with their kid when some meth heads killed her in a robbery. Those are three good motivations right there.
A terrific long take follows as the three men fight to the death to the song “Word Up.” The Kingsmen end it by shoving Whiskey into the meat grinder. Eggsy watches, satisfied, as the ground beef pours out. “Put alpha gel on that, dickhead,” he says.
Enter the passcode and whim bam boom the world is saved, again. More anal for Eggsy! But first, he puts a ring on it, marrying Princess Tilde in Sweden as Elton John plays the church organ. Is he Prince Eggsy now? Also, the President is arrested in the Oval Office for consigning millions to their deaths.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle leans on visual humor. For example, Eggsy must put a tracking device on a woman through a mucus membrane. He assumes the easiest method is through her vagina, and that’s exactly how it goes down. Or into. Eggsy has a finger condom with the tracker attached, which he slides into her panties and into her vagina, the camera following all the way. If you’ve ever wanted to see a CGI of a vaginal wall, have I got a movie for you!
The other great joke came from the drugs. Or, rather, the virus in the drugs. The second stage of the “dancing disease” is mania, which entails people dancing. Several of the afflicted are shown dancing worldwide like it’s a big Coke commercial, including a star turn by Channing Tatum, whose Statesman character also has the disease. I’m sure that was no accident. He does some silly kicks in cowboy boots, cowboy hat, and blue athletic gear, until he faints on the floor.
Poppyland: Poppy injected 1950s Americana into her Cambodian jungle home. A salon, theater, and diner all feature prominently. Expansive and clean, these places are far too large for Poppy and her crew. Her theater could seat 5,000, but only two wingback chairs are used. Her diner could seat a hundred, but all its chairs are stacked atop each other. She’s the only staff in the diner.
Statesman: Kentucky was the home of hateful Christians in the original Kingsman. The sequel shows that the state is not all lunatics, as it’s also home to a successful whiskey distillery/private spy agency called Statesman. With a headquarters in the shape of its signature whiskey bottle, Statesman has everything Kingsman had, but bigger, in the true American way. Their buildings are bigger, their jet is bigger, their guns are bigger, and their hats are bigger. Sorry, Brits. Manners may maketh man, but size maketh America great.
Should drugs be legal? Poppy thinks so. She claims that sugar is far more addictive than some illegal drugs such as cocaine. Poppy threatens to kill millions of people because she wants her drugs legitimized and wants the praise and recognition of other Fortune 500 execs. One of those execs is whoever runs Statesman, a company selling whiskey to eager consumers worldwide. The Statesman board tracks the upward-trending stock price daily, evidence that plenty of drug consumption is legal and accepted, lending some credence to Poppy’s views.
Matthew Vaughn must believe Kentucky the most racist, hate-filled location on Earth. It was home the Bible thumpers of South Glade Mission Church in the original film, and it’s home to a group of homophobes in a local bar in the sequel.
- (-1) Mark Strong sings more bars in the movie than Elton John.
Summary (33/68): 49%
I’m not sure why the sequel was panned compared to the original. Both movies match in tone, pace, action overload, cinematography, silliness, and senseless violence. You will likely feel about the the second movie as you did about the first.
Both American villains are far over the top cartoonish, which is fine. That’s what Kingsman is about. I enjoyed the addition of the Statesman, a group as attached American tropes (whiskey, baseball, denim) as Kingsman loves its Britishness.