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Non-Review Review: Kingsman – The Golden Circle

If Kingsman captured the nastiness of the early Roger Moore Bond movies, then Kingsman: The Golden Circle emulates the indulgent bloat of the later Roger Moore installments.

Part of the appeal of Kingsman was that it captured (and laid bare) the inherent ugliness running beneath the surface of the early Roger Moore movies, films like Live and Let Die or The Man With the Golden Gun. In many respects, Kingsman felt like a Roger Moore Bond movie that was acutely aware of how awful it was, willing to be transparent in its unpleasantness; whether in its sexual politics, in its casual violence, in its portrayal of individuals with disabilities. Kingsman took a lot of the sheen of nostalgia off those Sunday afternoon actioners, and revelled in the dissonance.

The Golden Circle is nowhere near as sharp and pointed. Instead, in its indulgence evokes the overstuffed and bloated feeling of the late Roger Moore films, of movies like Moonraker, Octopussy and A View to a Kill. Indeed, The Golden Circle seems coyly aware of that. What point could there be in casting Halle Berry in the thankless role of a member of an American counterpart to the eponymous British organisation, except to consciously nod towards Die Another Day, the belated tribute to the late Moore era?

The Golden Circle is a mess of a sequel, a film so in love with itself that it seems genuinely indifferent to anybody watching from audience.

The Golden Circle runs almost two hours and a half, and it feels almost every minute of that runtime. A lot of the issues with The Golden Circle come down to pacing, in particular what the script by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman chooses to prioritise. The Golden Circle is often caught between franchise movie indulgences and the necessities of a compelling film narrative, and the movie inevitably chooses the former over the latter. The Golden Circle engages in a wistful franchise nostalgia that would seem indulgent in a franchise with twenty films, let alone two.

If The Golden Circle ever has to choose between looking backwards or pressing forward, it can be counted to stare wistfully into the past for half an hour before manically sprinting for five minutes trying to make up the missing ground. The Golden Circle advances in fits and starts, both in terms of plot and in terms of action beats. Any sense of momentum in the film is punctuated by long periods in which the leads seem to pause to reflect upon the developments in Kingsman, the type of devoted affection usually reserved for films much older.

This is obvious in a number of ways, both major and minor. Most obviously, there is the return of Colin Firth as Harry Hart. It is not necessary to go into the mechanics of the character’s return, a fact heavily promoted in marketing materials and proudly revealed in the posters flooding cinemas. The precise details of how Harry Hart survived the events depicted in Kingsman are largely incidental, beyond demonstrating the laziness of the script. As far as The Gold Circle is concerned, bringing Colin Firth back is more important than ensuring that his return makes sense.

The problem is the amount of time that has to be devoted to bringing back the character of Harry Hart and reintroducing him to the narrative. Indeed, the reveal that Harry is alive marks the first of several times that The Golden Circle has to pump the breaks on its own plot in order to go back and fill in connective tissue that inevitably involves flashbacks and in-jokes. Structurally, The Golden Circle might flow better were the arc of Harry’s return spread across the film from one end to the other.

Unfortunately, The Golden Circle instead treats the return of Harry Hill as a roadblock to the story. The film has to slow down for half an hour to bring the character back to a place where Colin Firth can appear in action scenes, which naturally riff off some of the most charming sequences in the first film. The Golden Circle does make a point to play out a vague “but is he really back?” character arc across the rest of the film, but the first half of the second act is given over to a character arc that probably needs more space and needs to be properly diffused across the rest of the film.

However, this digression is symptomatic of a much larger problem with the film, which makes a point to glamourise and glorify elements of Kingsman that do not assist the flow of the story being told. Edward Holcroft returns as Charlie, a minor character from Kingsman who finds himself elevated to the role of primary henchman in The Golden Circle. However, his return adds little of value to the film beyond a strong textual link to the original. Nevertheless, Charlie ends up eating up quite a lot of screentime in the sequel, with even his girlfriend getting a subplot.

In theory, it is a nice decision to bring back Hanna Alström as Princess Tilde from the end of Kingsman, a choice that cleverly subverts the expectations of the final scene hook-up from various James Bond films. However, The Golden Circle allocates a lot of narrative space to Tilde without ever knowing exactly what it wants to do with her. The result is another extended stall, a sequence of scenes that add very little to the overall narrative while also crowding out the details of this particular adventure.

Other examples of bloat are more franchise-driven, most obviously the introduction of the Statesman agency as an American counterpart to the eponymous British institution. It is a very broad one-note joke, but one that eats up an inordinate amount of screentime that feels relentlessly cynical. While it’s unclear whether the Statesman are an attempt to bolster the American gross of The Golden Circle, or being positioned as a potential spin-off, the simple fact is that they take up too much narrative space repeating the beats that Kingsman covered with its own mysterious spy organisation.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Channing Tatum

The Statesman comes with its own narrative clutter, a host of recognisable actors in underwritten and superfluous roles that serve to squeeze out anything resembling character arcs or structure. Jeff Bridges is the gruff no-nonsense head of the organisation, who delivers surly exposition. Halle Berry is the techie who dreams of working in the field. Channing Tatum is a gruff no-nonsense “office bad boy” who plays by his own rules. Pedro Pascal is a veteran agent whose overconfidence distracts from his reliability in the field.

All but one of these characters is completely redundant, and could easily have been streamlined into a single role. However, loading the cast with so many popular performances leaves everybody gasping for breath and underdeveloped. This is a shame, because there are some interesting ideas bubbling beneath the surface. Most obviously, the casting of Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal as Eggsy’s opposite number Statesman provides a nice potential parallel, perhaps suggesting race is to the Statesman what class is to the Kingsman.

Unfortunately, none of this is allowed any room to develop. In fact, the actual plot of The Golden Circle advances in fits and start, as packaged excerpts of exposition crammed into the available space. This is most obvious when it comes to the villains of the piece. Julianne Moore is perfectly game as retro fifties nostalgia nerd poppy, but her characterisation is confined to two quick monologues; one layered over a computer-generated tracking shot early in the film and another crammed into a news report towards the climax.

However, this not even the most serious issue. The climax of The Golden Circle features a secondary villain whose motivation and background are only revealed in a monologue delivered directly before the climactic fight sequence. The result is that the actual narratives and characters driving The Golden Circle feel like a secondary concern brushed aside in service of the demands of the larger franchise concerns; the return of earlier characters to provide a sense of continuity, the building of a mythology that might support spin-offs.

This is a shame, because there are moments when The Golden Circle flirts with interesting ideas, when it brushes slightly against some of the anger and the aggressiveness that made the original such a striking pastiche. However, The Golden Circle has traded its hunger for indulgence, and the result is a sequel that feels gorged.

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6 Responses

  1. It looks they’re doing an homage to Sheriff J.W. Pepper, Jack Wade, and Damien Falco. The American counterparts to the 00 agents.

    And Jinx, of course.

  2. “If Kingsman captured the nastiness of the early Roger Moore Bond movies, then Kingsman: The Golden Circle emulates the indulgent bloat of the later Roger Moore installments.”

    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO God damn it. I was afraid that’s what they’d end up doing, but I really hoped they’d surprise me.

    “Part of the appeal of Kingsman was that it captured (and laid bare) the inherent ugliness running beneath the surface of the early Roger Moore movies, films like Live and Let Die or The Man With the Golden Gun. In many respects, Kingsman felt like a Roger Moore Bond movie that was acutely aware of how awful it was, willing to be transparent in its unpleasantness; whether in its sexual politics, in its casual violence, in its portrayal of individuals with disabilities. Kingsman took a lot of the sheen of nostalgia off those Sunday afternoon actioners, and revelled in the dissonance.”

    It wasn’t just reveling in the awfulness, though: the fact that they engaged with the class politics behind classic Bond, and actually had something interesting to say about it, is not something I’d have expected from a spoof. Pity the sequel doesn’t follow up, though unsurprising.

    Out of curiosity: I’m almost positive the answer is “no,” but the bad guys being an American group called “the Golden Circle” isn’t by any chance a slavery/proto-Confederate reference, is it?

  3. we can say that it’s a one time watch.Sometime you will get bored with the funny thing.

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