The problem with sequels is that they can rarely duplicate the freshness and dynamism of the original. That’s the problem facing “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” the much-anticipated sequel to the earlier 2014 “Kingsman” film, which has received mostly mixed reviews from critics.
On Rotten Tomatoes, for example, the film has a completely down-the-middle 50% freshness rating. Either you’re going to love it or you’re going to walk away disappointed. Here are some reasons for the mixed reviews of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.”
The brilliant conceit of the original “Kingsman” film was that it focused on a super-secret English spy organization located within a luxury tailor on Savile Row in London. The spies were eminently aristocratic and English in all their pretensions and mannerisms, yet reveled in graphic, gory violence. There were elements of camp, but it was mostly a send-up of the famous James Bond movies. As a result, the film felt fresh and dynamic – it was new, even if films (like the latest John Wick film) have borrowed elements from it.
But in Kingsman 2, that brilliant storyline and approach undergoes a transformation. We see the headquarters of the Kingsmen blown up, only a handful of the original Kingsmen survive, and the search is soon on to find another similar type of spy organization that’s based not in the UK but in America. And not in New York City, either – the search leads the Kingsmen to Kentucky, where it turns out a similar organization known as the Statesmen exists. And, while the English crew love to hang out in Savile Row suits, these Americans are cowboys who have a link to a Kentucky bourbon distillery.
Either you are going to find that premise funny – or you aren’t. That’s why some critics have been so mixed in their reviews. It was good satirical fun to poke fun at the James Bond spy franchise, with its debonair spy at the center of it all, 1960’s-style sexism, and preference for elaborate killing gadgets. But what’s so funny about poking fun at cowboy-spies? Is there even a genre for that? It seems more likely that the filmmakers ran a few focus groups with moviegoers and quickly realized that more money could be made at the box office if the film was chock-full of American movie stars.
If you’ve seen the trailers and movie posters for the film, then you’re probably aware of the all-star cast at the center of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” There’s Channing Tatum (playing the role of “Tequila”), Jeff Bridges (“Champagne”), Pedro Pascal (“Whiskey”) and Halle Barry (“Ginger Ale”). But there’s just one problem here – Tatum and Bridges are in disappointingly few scenes, and one gets the impression that more could have been made of the film with their more active participation. Colin Firth, who plays Harry Hart, is also no longer in a primary role.
And then there’s the matter of Julianne Moore as the evil villain Poppy, who plays a psychotic drug dealer trying to corrupt the world. There’s something very trendy these days about having actresses like Moore in this role, and she certainly plays the role with a certain amount of camp and charm. But can we really say that she steals any scene that she’s in?
While part of the charm of “Kingsman” is the slightly loony, over-the-top zaniness of the action, critics continue to ask why the film felt the need to include British pop icon Elton John in a cameo role. Poppy and the evil villains are apparently holding him hostage. But critics have not been so enthusiastic about his role, viewing it as just a desperate attempt to get a bigger audience for the movie.
The violence in this “Kingsman” sequel has much of the same epic feel of the action and violence in the original. Somehow, though, it’s just too over-the-top. Audiences are saying that the action was just too choreographed, and too CGI-centric. The one scene that critics are talking about, though, is the one at the ski resort featuring a runaway ski gondola.
In general, the action is great. There are hybrid cars that transform into submarines, robot dogs, robot arms, and all kinds of machine gun gadgets. The action can be fast and frenetic, and most of the graphic gore is almost comical for how zany it is.
But here’s the thing: the movie seems to have lost some of its original focus. It’s no longer a case of just creating a brilliant James Bond send-up (cars with machine guns!), it’s now a case of director Matthew Vaughn trying his hand at a whole new genre of comic-action movies. With a bigger, better American cast, he must have felt he had a license to send up just about any type of American film, too.
There are really only two different kinds of sequels – those that audiences are clamoring for as a way of figuring out the answers about the unanswered questions of the original, and those that are made simply to make a quick buck. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” can’t seem to make up its mind which one it wants to be.
At first, the film looks like it will finally tell us what happened to the original film’s stars (Harry Hart is still alive!). But then it blows up the HQ of the Kingsmen, kills off some characters, and changes tack to address the story of the American version of the Kingsmen (the Statesmen).
As a result, critics have sometimes given the film mixed reviews. They’ve called it “bloated,” for example, since the plotline and storyline seem to wander off in new directions in an effort to make the film as long as possible. And they’ve called it “campy” – mostly for the Elton John cameo, and for Julianne Moore playing the role of a drugged-out 1950’s-era housewife-turned-villain. And, of course, a spy organization of cowboys with names of different types of alcohol (Tequila, Champagne, Whisky) is either inspired or just plain stupid.
So, in the final analysis, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” may be a perfectly fine film. But it is not a great film, as measured by all the mixed reviews. And it certainly has a hard time measuring up to the dynamism and freshness of the original “Kingsman” film.