By Preston Wilder
What will be the first Trump-era movie with a Trump-like US president? We have a winner! Kudos to Kingsman: The Golden Circle for coming up, a mere eight months after the inauguration, with a slavering White House psycho whose reasoning is nonetheless plausible, in a psychotic way. Faced with a global crisis – Poppy (Julianne Moore), the world’s biggest drug dealer, has laced her drugs with a slow-acting poison – the Prez decides on a novel response: do nothing, so the “junkie scum” will all die and he wins the War on Drugs in one fell swoop! Admittedly this cunning plan ends with the Trump facsimile impeached and in handcuffs, but that’s just because the film is made by naïve Brits who don’t understand how the world works.
The naïve Brit in question is director Matthew Vaughn (he also co-wrote, with Jane Goldman), a man of questionable taste but clear, crisp action-movie stylings. Much has been written (all of it true) on Hollywood films becoming decadent, peddling empty sensation in place of plot and character – but empty sensation can be thrilling when it’s clean and kinetic, like the fight in a London cab that kicks off The Golden Circle. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) tussles with a Kingsman reject named Charlie (Kingsman being the Savile Row secret society which produces non-state James Bonds), all to the strains of Prince singing ‘Let’s Go Crazy’. They struggle in the back seat of the cab. Charlie is almost ejected, then reveals a robotic arm that allows him to turn the tables. Eggsy hangs on to the back door – which has meanwhile been torn off its hinges – dragged behind the car like a skier, pops in the boot and slashes his way through the back seat. There’s no incoherent cutting or distracting effects, then the cab smashes to a stop just as the song ends abruptly. Even after so many years – and so many fights in speeding cars – it’s a rush.
Kingsman is solid on action (later, there’s a near-disaster on a cable car that had me breathless) and amusing, if laddish, in its comedy. I didn’t expect to like this movie. In the first place, it’s 141 minutes long, which is clearly excessive; like so many blockbuster merchants, Vaughn doesn’t know when to stop (that opening fight is immediately followed by a second chase through Hyde Park, which feels anti-climactic). In the second place, Kingsman: The Secret Service from a couple of years ago was a minor diversion, memorable mostly for two incongruously gruesome scenes (one of them featured dozens of heads exploding). There’s a bit in Golden Circle where Merlin (the excellent Mark Strong) shows Eggsy some kind of golden ring. “Remember this?” asks Merlin; “How can I forget?” replies our hero – which is ironic, since I’ll bet almost no casual viewer will have any recollection of that ring, or what it does. Not all films deserve to be franchises, people.
Still, this sequel is superior late-summer fare, with a heavyweight cast that includes three Oscar-winning actors (not counting Elton John, as himself) and a plot that goes to some jaw-dropping places. For one thing, supervillain Poppy isn’t looking for world domination, except through the free market; her only demand is for drugs to be legalised, so she can become a respectable businesswoman (whether people will still buy her products after she’s held the world to ransom and nearly killed millions is another matter). Then there’s the return of Harry Hart, a.k.a. Agent Galahad (Colin Firth at his most plaintively reserved), discovered in the HQ of ‘Statesman’ – Kingsman’s bourbon-brewing American cousins – as an eyepatch-wearing amnesiac prone to visions of butterflies. Add the Trump figure, plus quirky touches like Merlin singing ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ (also featured in Logan Lucky this week) and Eggsy having dinner with the King and Queen of Sweden (he’s dating their daughter, the princess), and you have a film that’s reliably inventive, if not exactly deep.
The only slight problem is good taste. The real joke in Kingsman is the British class system, Eggsy being a working-class lad in the world of the secret elite, and Golden Circle too often feels like a film about gentlemen made by a chav. The cable-car sequence ends on a scatological punchline that’s funny but crude, and Vaughn has a weakness for gross-out humour – the exploding heads in the first Kingsman and “the mincer” here, Poppy not just making mincemeat of henchmen who displease her but turning the meat into patties and serving it up as cheeseburgers to other henchmen! As mentioned, the film is laddish, aimed at a late-teenage male demographic that appreciates both disgusting jokes and the thought of a secret boys’ club. It’s still fun, within those parameters, but I reckon this franchise can be put to bed now – so what can we say to the news that Kingsman 3 has already been announced, even before Part 2 is out? “I suppose that must be upper-class humour.”
DIRECTED BY Matthew Vaughn
STARRING Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
UK/US 2017 Action comedy, 141 mins