I was very lucky to get a ticket for the premiere of the eagerly awaited sequel to the surprisingly excellent 2014 original and, as I did with the first film, thoroughly enjoyed it. Before going any further, I should point out that this will be as spoiler-free as possible, many of the best sequences and gags are best experienced as the pleasant, downright fantastic surprises that they are.
The Golden Circle takes place about a year after The Secret Service and wastes absolutely no time whatsoever, jumping straight into the action with a high-octane car chase/fist fight through the streets of London. Matthew Vaughn’s direction bristles with energy as the camera and the action swing around the frame in a dizzying display that gets the blood pumping from the outset. And, remarkably, the scenes take place in a recognisable London, along recognisable streets that you can follow with ease if you know the capital. Which is a pleasant change.
Vaughn excels with this film embracing the silliness of not just the extreme view of the films it’s parodying/inspired by but pushing those tropes to their own extremes. The dogs being a case in point; on the one hand Poppy’s guard dogs are absolutely stupid, having waved bye-bye to silliness a long time ago, but they not only fit perfectly with the insanity of this world’s magi-tech (Galahad I’s revival being the mischievous high point) but they are also the pathway to two of this film’s delights. Lose the dogs and you lose Elton’s smile.
And there in lies the ‘issue’ with this film; it’s predicated on just letting go and going as out there and crazy as possible but still follows the long established playbook for these films. The script is essentially by the numbers nonsense but Jane Goldman is far too good a writer to let Hollywood’s desperate need for uniformity to get in her way and balances the two competing ideals. Her script crackles with an impish glee as she attempts to turn the tropes of big budget sequel spectacle to her advantage, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.
The Statesmen themselves being parodies of the big bluster American heroes don’t quite land for me. You get the sense that it was perhaps supposed to be a commentary/satire on the influence and impact that America has on Britain both financially and culturally, doing for this outing what the class war did for the first, but it ends up simply as surface detail; America saves the day just as they always do. Which is fair enough, it’s an American movie after all but there are glimpses throughout of something more consequential that seems to get lost at some point, and the film feels lesser for it.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. I must confess that I am not a fan of the Statesmen as characters nor do I care for how the film ended, no matter how watchable Tanning Chatum is. The Statesman are, to me at least, a very cynical cash-in akin to the thirty billion different Green Lantern Corps that now populate the DC universe; it diminishes the original instead of enhancing it, rendering the Kingsmen as generic and ordinary, indeed slightly inferior with how things shake out for them here.
Returning are most of the main cast reprising their roles with enthusiasm though more than a few were woefully underused and thrown aside with very little regard. If you’ve seen the trailers then you know that our heroes are hit and hit hard. Which is a shame as one kingsman in particular was missed by this viewer and for no other reason than the simple fact that the cast is filled to the brim with talent all needing their own moment or three in the narrative, leaving little room for a great character that was short changed in the first film and outright robbed here.
Taron Egerton is great once again as Eggsy, desperately juggling a life outside of the service while trying to save the day but it’s the relationship between the two Galahads that makes the film so enjoyable. We’re already invested in these characters and Eggsy’s love and respect for his mentor shines through and is highlighted wonderfully in the climactic Battle Royale as the Galahads take on and – surprise, surprise – defeat the villain.
The choreography of the final fight is as stunning and jaw dropping as the final fights last time around, the difference being the unspoken communication between our heroes as they fight together as one single destructive entity moving from target to target. The characters are so in sync that they still work in concert with each other despite being separated from each other as the trope goes.
Colin Firth’s Harry Hart was a revelation last time around and screams out for a turn at the Bond franchise but let’s be honest here; he’s far too good for Ian Fleming’s broken weapon so let’s be thankful he’s in a film with Magi-tech. As trite and obvious as his story was here it was necessary to have him back and works within the context of this world, and Firth sells it with effortless grace. Though the scene of his first appearance is absolutely thrilling, it’s heart-breaking to see what has become of him, especially moving as we watch Eggsy and Merlin do what they can for him.
Merlin’s attempts at restoring Harry are sold with ease by Mark Strong whose down-to-earth and pragmatic ‘Q’ stand-in is as funny and essential as previously, and plays exceedingly well off Halle Berry as his counterpart, Ginger. Berry, with Lloyd (it’s actually Jeff but bloody hell) Bridges and Channing Tatum are all wasted in this movie but are as excellent and as good as you would expect while Pedro Pascal’s Whisky is fun and also somewhat under-used.
The true stand-out is Julianne Moore who is astounding as the main villain Poppy, whose motivations are at once understandable and utterly monstrous. She is as diabolical as any great bad guy and deserved at least two films but I’ll happily enjoy this turn again and again, her interactions with the revelatory Elton John being a high point of the film. In fact I would probably say this film is worth watching for Sir Elton alone and I’m not joking. Vaughn and Goldman have used John with delicacy and grace and whole lot of chutzpah and maniacal madness. Go see it and have some fun.