2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was stylish, campy, action packed, outrageous fun. It was a refreshing call back to the James Bond films of old and it ended up being a surprise hit and one of my personal favorite films of that year. But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that following up a hit is not an easy task.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle once again follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the young agent of the Kingsman tailor shop in London that moonlights as an undercover intelligence agency. When a former rival (Edward Holcroft) resurfaces and compromises the agency, Eggsy and Kingsman tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to journey to Kentucky and team up with their American sister agency, the Statesman (Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal). With their resources combined, the Statesmen and Kingsmen will have to work together to stop Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a deranged Martha Stewart-esque leader of a drug cartel.
The new characters, mainly the Statesmen, all feel like caricatures. But in a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that isn’t a problem at all. As for the new villainess, Julianne Moore’s performance isn’t quite as charismatic as Sam Jackson’s in the previous film, but her actual motives are a bit more inspired and nuanced. Where The Golden Circle slips is in its narrative flow. There is a needless twist that the movie could do without and the story often creates loose threads that are tugged at but never fully explored. There’s also such a thing as overboard when it comes to quirky cameos (Elton John has entirely too much screen time).
But with Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) thankfully back in the director’s chair the tonal aspects of this film are almost identical to its predecessor. The action, humor, and style of this sequel all feel organic so there’s no real reason to dislike this film if you had any sort of appreciation for the first. Colin Firth (in an only moderately forced return) is a welcoming presence as Eggsy’s mentor Harry. Taron Egerton once again brings boyish charm and sincerity to the lead role and Mark Strong again feels like the cool, British uncle we all wish we had. With camaraderie and some brisk action choreography, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has enough of what audiences will ask for to offset any lingering side effects that inevitably come with being an unnecessary sequel.
FINAL GRADE: B
A dystopian society and a teen that must set the people free from it… sound familiar? These movies have become so abundant that it is hard not to right them off as copycats before you even sit down to watch. But just like with the Superhero origin story, or the slasher film, these movies can actually be worthwhile if you give them a chance and at least try to take them as individual stories and not a member of a collective whole.
The Giver, based off of a novel published in 1993 by Lois Lowry, is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a boy living in a community of people who live in a world of Sameness. Everyone takes a drug that eliminates emotional depth. Teenagers are assigned their jobs based on their personality traits. And no one has memories of the world before sameness. Things like animals, snow, even colors, are lost to this community of seemingly happy people. After being assigned as the Receiver of Memories, a job assigned to one citizen who withholds all of the knowledge and records of the world before Sameness, Jonas begins to realize how shallow his society is. Along with his teacher, the Giver of Memories (Jeff Bridges) he seeks to restore the world to what it used to be and overthrow the chief Elder (Meryl Streep).
The movie is essentially Divergent meets Equilibrium. The funny thing is; the source material predates both of those films. So, all of the clichés and moments that hearken back to other dystopian teen stories are a bit forgivable. Understanding this makes the movie very fascinating though it lacks the action of similar stories. It makes up for the lack of big action sequences with a more philosophical approach to its story, because unlike Hunger Games or Divergent, the antagonists aren’t committing mass genocide or doing any damage for the sake of power. Even their most heinous acts are justifiable via their emotionless logic and quest for true peace.
The films biggest shortcomings are actually with the cast. Thwaites and many of the younger actors, carry themselves like they’re doing an ABC Family sitcom and not a major motion picture. They dominate most of the screen time, so it can get a bit annoying. The ending of the film is also very confusing and a bit ambiguous, but readers of the book will tell you that this is no different than the source material. I personally read the book too long ago to fully remember the details, but I found this theatrical version fairly entertaining. As for as the themes and the questions they raise, the movie is actually a step above last springs hit, Divergent.
FINAL GRADE: B. Won’t be a waste of money. Worth seeing if you’re bored.