Tuesday’s Reviews – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the first Kingsman movie. It was an insane but really enjoyable spy film that even managed to make Colin Firth seem edgy and cool. I never would have thought it was possible but I guess Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman did the same thing with Nicolas Cage in Kickass. Kingsman is one of those weird films that everyone seems to love. Even my mother watched it when it was on Netflix. It had the benefit of being batshit crazy, incredibly funny, and well-made. It was perfectly over-the-top and a perfect antidote for the decreasingly self-aware Bond franchise. In recent years, James Bond has gone from being a camp British icon to something of a Hollywood bad boy. He no longer feels the need for insane and unnecessary gadgetry and, instead, uses her sheer muscle mass and martial arts skills to get the job done. Kickass took us back to a time when spies were gentlemen carrying umbrella guns and exploding pens. It was great. So, I was pretty gosh darn excited by the prospect of the second one. Especially when it was announced that Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry were all joining the cast as an American version of the UK’s Kingsman organisation. All 3 of those actors are, in their own way, incredibly talented. As you probably know if you’ve read some of my stuff before, I have developed a love of Channing Tatum since I discovered he has a sense of humour about himself and now I long to see all of his films. I swear it’s all about his comic timing… there’s definitely nothing of interest to me underneath his shirt. No way. Never.
The sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s 2005 spy film, Kingsman: The Secret Service doesn’t so much try to carry on the great things as it tries to overshadow them. There is no sense that the second film in the series is going to take things lying down. It is bigger, brasher, more violent and even sillier. Yes, that’s right, even sillier than a film starring an assassin with blades for legs. This one does star Elton John though. Considering how weird the first film is, it’was incredibly unlikely that I’d ever be able to sit and say the second film makes it look almost normal in comparison. But it does. The Golden Circle could certainly do with some refinement but it still contains the same breathtaking stunts and camera work that made the first film so entertaining. As long as your basic requirements for this film revolve around good guys kicking the arses of bad guys then it’ll be satisfying enough.

The Golden Circle sees the unlikely hero from the first film, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), coming up against a dangerous drug baron, Poppy (Julianne Moore), who is essentially holding the world’s drug users to ransom. When Eggsy has a near-death run in with former Kingsman applicant Charlie he finds himself on the tail of the Golden Circle; a drugs cartel who rules the world’s drug trade. When Poppy poisons her merchandise, drugs users all over the globe start showing signs of an illness which leads to a quick and horrible death. Poppy plans to make a deal with President of the United States but, after the rest of the Kingsman were taken out, Eggsy seeks help from his American counterparts, the Statesmen, to bring her down.

It is the introduction of the Statesmen that gives this film such a different feel. Once the majority of the orignal cast have been dispensed with, Eggsy is left with only Merlin (Mark Strong) for company. So we are introduced to American agents in the shape of Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal. All these characters show great potential but they never quite excite as much as the original cast. There is a certain amount of chemistry missing between the newbies and the olds here. You’ll miss the interactions between Eggsy and his mentor Harry (Colin Firth) or his fellow new Kingsman Roxy. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Pedro Pascal’s face but even watching him utilise an electro lasso doesn’t make up for the absences.

There is a lot of bloat in this second film that really slows the film down. Not only have we got to go through the process of finding and introducing the Statesmen, which messes with the pace, but then we find out Harry is alive. It’s not exactly a spoiler because he’s been all over the promotional material but, yes, after his grizzly death in the first film Harry is back… kind of. I like Colin Firth in the first film but his return here takes way too much time away from the main story. It ultimately doesn’t add enough to justify lengthening the film that much. No matter how cool Firth looks in an eye patch.

It is not until late on that the film really gets going. After the opening fight scene, that’s where we see most of the super impressive and visually stunning fight scenes that the first film got so right. I mean, speaking critically, I could have done without the rehash of the original’s “manners maketh man” scene but Pedro Pascal is so phenomenally sexy that I can forgive it. It is these insane and completely cartoon-like fight scenes that make the Kingsman films so fantastic. The visual gags, stunts and CGI all come together to create something so absurd yet so appealing. The filmmakers know what they’re doing by now so they’re all pretty by the book but they will still capture an audiences’ attention.

I can’t say that I liked this film more than the original but I did like this film. Well, most of this film. There is a horrible, creepy and unnecessary plot strand that sees Eggsy have to plant a tracking device in an incredibly intimate area that just feels misjudged…. especially in this current climate in Hollywood. However, the rest of the film is silly and funny enough to keep fans of the first film relatively happy. Even if Channing Tatum is horribly underused and overdressed for the duration.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

There are plenty of films that I get excited about but am too embarrassed to admit to. No matter how much I try and hide it, I’ll always have the soul of a 12 year old boy. The bottom line is that swords, guns and explosions are fucking awesome and if your film trailer is full of them then I’m gonna want to see it. It’s led to a lot of misguided film experiences and is the main reason that I don’t completely hate Michael Bay’s Transformersfilms. Upon first seeing the trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, I knew it was the kind of film I wanted to see but without anyone finding out about it.

Back in 2010, Matthew Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goldman re-imagined the world of superhero movies with Kick-Ass and introduced us all to the profanity spouting Chloe Grace Moretz. It was a fucking superb film that achieved massive success and spawned a less than great sequel. Obviously feeling comfortable adapting Mark Millar’s work, Vaughan and Goldman are back to reinvent the classic spy film by bringing The Secret Serviceto our screens. No matter how fucking amazing Skyfalland the rest of Daniel Craig’s Bond reign has been, there has been something lacking of late. No longer is there any room for the raised eyebrows, timely quips and batshit crazy gadgets. Thankfully, Vaughan has noticed a gap in the market and adapted Millar’s story to fit the bill. Kingsman does for Roger Moore era James Bond what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes… only better.
Kingsmanis refreshingly self-aware and is littered with cheeky nods to all aspects of pop culture. Colin Firth’s suave Harry Hart wear Harry Palmer-style glasses, wields an umbrella in a way that John Steed would be proud and casually references 80s classic Trading Places. Of course, it is Bond that prevails over all and Ian Fleming’s much-loved agent is regularly alluded to or mentioned out-right. In an attempt to make amends for a past mistake, Harry takes urban youth, Eggsy, under his wing to turn him into a gentleman and a trained killer. The first part of the film is a delightful mix of My Fair Lady, The Apprentice and The Ipcress File. The moments between the pair are full of chemistry so it’s a massive fucking shame that the plot strives so hard to split them up.
For, whilst Eggsy is taking part in the most stressful job interview ever, Harry’s time is spent trying to find out what internet mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) is planning. Valentine is a megalomaniac with a keen interest in environmentalism. As classic spy villains go, he isn’t up there with the best but does provide a few memorable moments throughout the proceedings. Ultimately though, he is woefully eclipsed by his blade-legged, assassin side-kick, Gazelle. A powerful opponent who can easily chop you in half with her prosthetics: the paralympics meets Kill Billif you will. Of course, regardless of his ranking in the super-villain hall of fame, Valentine is a pretty good foil for Hart and the rare moments that they appear on screen together are fucking brilliant. I’m never normally sure what I think of Colin Firth but there is no doubt he had the time of his fucking life. There is the now infamous scene set in an extremist Church when Harry, not fully in control of his senses, takes out an entire congregation of angry Christians. Graphic it may be but fun it most certainly is.
That’s the thing about Kingsman, the fact that it was independently funded meant that Vaughn was able to get away with more without fear of censorship. The violence is perhaps over-the-top but is handled in such a cartoony way that it might not matter. For every potentially dubious moment of unnecessary there is the fucking genius scene of henchmen’s heads exploding in time to Land of Hope and Glory. Whatever your thoughts on the violence argument that will always be raging within Hollywood, there is no doubt that Kingsmanis a stylish, brash and incredibly fun film. The only real let-down that I can see is Vaughn’s treatment of the class system. He makes several attempts to openly criticise the upper-classes whilst simultaneously celebrating their lifestyle. Kingsmanplays with a certain tradition of spy thrillers and inadvertently places the men at the centre of that genre on a pedestal. This is understandably at odds with all of Harry’s reassurances to Eggsy that it is the man underneath that counts. Still, it makes little difference in Matthew Vaughn’s joy-filled celebration of a certain style of cinema. You’ll make it through to the credits perfectly happy and, if you’re like me, excited for the next one.
X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class (2011)

It is undeniable that comic book movies have come a long way since their early days. Tim Burton’s Batman(1989) gave us a dark tale starring the Dark Knight that was stylistically very similar to the original comics. His two Batman movies introduced us to a gothic world and gave us just enough danger, humour and excitement to make it ok to be a bit of a geek. Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000) showed us that superhero movies could be all round good films and Spider-Man (2002) made them smash hits with cinemagoers. Lastly, with Batman Begins and more recently The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gave us an intelligent, grown-up and very dark look into the world of costumed crusaders. Comic book movies were no longer just for fans of the original source material. They became hits with movie fans as a whole. Gone are the days of the simplistic and silly Batman of the 1960s, audiences want something clever, exciting and just a little bit terrifying.

Talking of the 60s, X-Men First Class takes us back to this most swinging of eras and puts us in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Called upon by the FBI, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) must bring together a group of young mutants to help stop former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw, (a familiarly terrible Kevin Bacon) from bringing about World War Three. Whilst I liked the idea of giving the mutants a non-superhero threat, I think this was the wrong film to introduce us to the idea. There was far too much going on and, in the long run, many plot lines feel rushed and never quite reach their mark.
This film needed a simpler plot in order to ensure the mutants themselves were the major focus. Instead, we have to contend with new faces; the tension between America and Russia; Nazi Germany and the subsequent revenge plot; problems in the CIA; Kevin Bacon’s gang; and an unnecessary and frustrating romance between Charles and Rose Byrne’s CIA agent. This romantic plot only goes to suggest that it is impossible to make a film that doesn’t rely on love to keep the audience engrossed. Well bollocks. I can see no real benefit for it; well, aside from the infamous line “Gentlemen, this is why the CIA is no place for a woman.” A statement which, during both of my in-cinema viewings, caused the people around me to gasp in disgust (to be honest, as soon as Moira mentioned being part of the CIA I was sceptical about the historical accuracy of this plot point).
However, the scenes where Charles trains his new recruits were enjoyable to watch. James McAvoy is a great talent and is able to bring us a fresh perspective to a role that will always truly belong to Patrick Stewart. On top of this, it gives us the unintentionally hilarious moment of bromance between McAvoy and Fassbender when the two shed a manly tear over Magneto’s long forgotten memory. It’s a beautiful moment I’m sure you’ll agree. Although, for the most part, the chemistry between these two great actors is awesome. The films finest moments are the ones where these two are free to explore their characters and the relationship they once shared. Unfortunately, these key moments are over much too quickly and each new mutant is given an unjustly small amount of time to find their inner strength.
Magneto is the only character to get an considerable back-story and, because of this, it is his storyline that leads to one of the most interesting aspects of the film. After seeing snippets of his childhood, we return to his life story once the young Erik has grown up into Michael Fassbender and he’s really, really pissed off. What follows is a revenge plot that sees Erik get all Quantum of Solace on us and torture and kill everyone who gets in his way. Yes, he’s like an angry James Bond with the ability to manipulate metal running through Russia to seek vengeance. Why the fuck wasn’t that the entire film?
Obviously there was a great pressure to release this for a certain point and the film ends up feeling as though it is lacking cohesion. The film relies heavily on special effects but, whilst they were much better than those on show in The Green Lantern (released around the same time), it is nowhere near as impressive as it could have been. I mean what the fuck happened with Beast? We live in an age of great possibilities when it comes to computer graphics so I have to ask who decided to make Beast look like a cheap university student’s fancy-dress outfit?
Most frustrating of all is Fassbender’s accent throughout the entire film. If someone decided to start a drinking game where you have to take a shot every time he slips into his Irish brogue it would have descended into utter mayhem halfway through the 2 hour running time. I have to question the decision to forgo ADR just to ensure the film was released that little bit quicker. The whole film ends up looking quite amateurish and messy, which is an utter shame.
Although, I have to admit that the script is, for the most part, well-written and entertaining. Vaughan brings a fresh feeling to this seemingly washed-out franchise. His film is action packed, fun and thoughtful: he manages to breath new life into familiar characters and helps the lesser known cast members to flourish. Especially the rising star Jennifer Lawrence who makes a decent job of trying to recreate the character of Mystique. She even managed to bring conviction to the disappointingly flat underlying message about remaining true to yourself. (‘Mutant and Proud’ never quite seems to get off it’s feet and the film seems a little self-conscious about what it is trying to teach its audience.)

As we saw from Kick Ass, Vaughan knows how to put together a good fight sequence and the large action sequences are pretty spectacular. Unlike Singer’s films, Vaughan has created an X-Men film that is not afraid to show itself to be a comic book movie. It may have been far from perfect but we are so much closer to the level that Bryan Singer introduced us to back in 2000. There is certainly enough on show here to keep both fans of the comics and newer audiences alike satisfied. Thankfully, it leaves us with the impression that a sequel, if given the deserved amount of time and care, will be a wonderful addition to this newly awoken franchise.