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Kingsman Crosses the Pond

This is the second movie I’ve seen this year with Channing Tatum where someone sings “Country Roads.” What an odd coincidence.
Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a great movie that came out of nowhere; a really fresh and unique take on the spy genre, it was a great marriage of classy and corny, and it introduced the world to one of the most promising up-and-coming stars, Taron Egerton. That film was one of my favourites of 2015. Does Kingsman: The Golden Circle stand a chance of being one for 2017?
Eggsy (Taron Egerton), now under the codename “Galahad”, has been a Kingsman for a year when their base and all their agents are destroyed in a missile strike. The last of their organization, he and Merlin (Mark Strong) following a doomsday protocol, locate their American counterparts, the Statesmen in Kentucky. There they discover Eggsy’s old mentor Harry (Colin Firth) now suffering amnesia, and while worrying about him, must also deal with the international threat of a powerful drug baron (Julianne Moore).
The plot to this movie is pretty cliché-ridden, but luckily, Vaughn knows how to keep most of them from feeling stale. I mean there are a few that don’t work, most notably one typical twist late in the movie that’s way too heavily forecast and a bit cheap. Otherwise, poor plot-points such as the amnesia and a break-up, are done earnestly or with some good humour. Like the first film, the comedy is pretty strong in this movie. This is definitely a corny world with over-the-top action, characters, and situations, and more often than not Vaughn has fun with them. The production design is really inventive and there are a series of interesting locations. I also admire that Vaughan doesn’t set the reset button that sometimes seems to be the case with long-running spy franchises. Characters and events from the first film flow into this one, and Eggsy in particular continues his development where it left off. That being said there are significant issues. There’s a degree of repetition underscoring some of the film. One scene in particular reeks of this. It has a purpose relevant to this movie, but is certainly not essential. The pacing is a bit sloppy too, lingering on some scenes while rushing through others. There are a couple instances where we probably needed a breather after something’s just gone down, but the movie doesn’t let us. Overall the film is a bit too long and it’s easy to spot the scenes that didn’t need to be there. I’m annoyed too that one good character gets the shaft early on that they didn’t deserve. And while the touches of how the American operation works are neat, as well as their own system, gadgets, and codenames, it can’t help but sometimes come off looking like an attempt to hijack a British property. It just feels like the Americans needed to have a piece of the steak and kidney pie.
Luckily they don’t hog the screen-time. In fact, despite the promotions, both Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges have very small roles in this film, and are fine as the parts require. Taron Egerton is once again at the centre of it and he’s great. As noted, his character is evolving, maintaining a relationship with Hanna Alström’s Princess Tilde from the first movie. He’s as skilled and charming as Bond, but very grounded nonetheless. Colin Firth is very good too, and Mark Strong ups his game this time around, earning one of the movie’s best scenes. I like Halle Berry as Ginger Ale, Merlin’s equivalent in the Statesmen (I feel like Berry should focus more on supporting roles like this). And it’s great to see Pedro Pascal get so much screen-time as Whiskey. Julianne Moore is okay as the constantly passive aggressive villain, aided by Edward Holcroft reprising his role from the last movie. Bruce Greenwood plays a horrible American President who might’ve been too over-the-top if this were made a few years ago, and Emily Watson is underused as his Chief of Staff. One of the biggest misfires of the film though is Elton John playing himself. It starts out as an okay cameo, but the role grows to the point it gets really awkward and they kind of just use him as a gimmick.
Vaughn’s signature is once again all over the action sequences which are still energetic, stylized, and fun to watch. They’re never cluttered either -despite the chaos of a scene, you know what’s happening. There are more here than in the first film, but for me at least, they never lost their lustre. The fights are still amazingly choreographed, and violent without being graphic -though there are one or two gruesome deaths that imply Vaughn’s a fan of Fargo. But his style can go too far, as it does in the film’s only sex scene, where the camera’s intimacy gets uncomfortable. It’s an extreme of male gaze I haven’t seen in years and it was really unnecessary.
I liked Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but it does have heavy flaws. It’s clunkier, makes a few bad character choices, and the American presence feels a tad intrusive. But it still has some really good characters, good direction, creative action set-pieces, and a fun sense of humour. Never underestimate a movie that dresses smart.

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