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
It’s been quite the year for animated movies. Disney set the bar high with three fantastic films in Zootopia, Finding Dory, and Moana. But Illumination (the folks behind the Despicable Me franchise) showed that they could create a fun film without minions with this summer’s Secret Life of Pets. Now they close out the year with Sing, an exciting concept aided by a stellar voice cast.
Sing is the simple story of Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala bear whose rundown theater is about to be taken due to bankruptcy. His last ditch effort is to have a singing competition with a collection of vocally talented locals. There’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), the gorilla son of an unsupportive gangster father, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) a stressed pig housewife with 25 kids, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage porcupine who is chosen for the competition over her jealous guitar playing boyfriend, Mike (Seth McFarlane) a rude crooning street rat, Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a massive case of stage fright, and a confidently flamboyant German pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). With a talented group, Buster is poised to prove his sheep best friend (John C. Reilly) wrong, if only his elderly iguana secretary (Garth Jennings) hadn’t accidentally put a $100,000 reward on the audition flyers.
The movie breaks no new narrative ground, but that isn’t the purpose of Sing. Instead, it’s a thoroughly wonderful experience because of the different characters and their arcs. They are all interesting, funny, and loveable. And the music is sensational. If you aren’t familiar with the vocal splendor of Tori Kelly, then you’ll be in for a marvelous surprise. Her voice is angelic and her shy, wholesome character is the heart and soul of a film filled with soulful characters.
The holidays should be about family and fun, and for that reason Sing manages to be a triumph without any fresh twists or turns. It delivers what it promises and gives some hefty laughs and heartwarming moments along the way. So while it might not be Academy award worthy, anyone who comes out of Sing without a smile on their face went in for the wrong reasons.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Remember the old James Bond movies? Not the gritty, intricate Daniel Craig ones that are all fantastic, but the colorful unrealistic ones with Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, and Sean Connery. Those were the films where villains threw razor blade hates and had metal teeth. Those movies in comparison were completely outlandish (Like contrasting Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever). But, they sure were a lot of fun. Kingsman: The Secret Service harkens back to the old days when action movies didn’t have to be straight laced to be entertaining.
Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class) knows what he has here, and treats it like those quirky action movies of old. Like Men in Black with no aliens, Kingsman tells the story of a secret organization of spies. Colin Firth (in his first ever role as a badass) takes on the role of the wily veteran agent who recruits the troubled son of a former member (Taron Egerton). Together with other members of the agency (Jon Strong, Michael Caine, Sophie Cookson), they must stop a megalomaniac’s (Samuel L. Jackson) global plot to create mass level extinction. Sound enough like a throwback Bond movie?
While a proper homage to the classic spy genre, at times Kingsman follows every cliché imaginable. But what it lacks in plot and story, it makes up for in its characters. Taron Egerton is suave and stylish as the young lead, Eggsy, even if the rest of the young cast is forgettable. The real showstoppers are the villains. Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious as the eccentric, billionaire psychopath with a heavy lisp and a poor stomach for violence. He carries the charisma that all good spy movie villains must have. His henchwoman Gazelle (Sofia Boutella), an amputee with blade legs, helps create some jawdropping action sequences. And there are plenty of those to go around, especially in the exhilarating final act.
If ludicrous plots, excessive violence, and use of the F-word in every other sentence are not your forte, then you should run as far away from Kingsman as possible. But if you’re looking for some swift action and a bit of self-referential humor (and if you don’t want to sit through Fifty Shades of Grey) then Kingsman is a great time. It is violent, gratuitous, excessively loud, and it’s the most fun film to hit theaters in 2015.
FINAL GRADE: B+