‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ Suffers from Overkill, But it’s Still Worth a Look

Kingsman The Golden Circle poster

Ever since his directorial debut with “Layer Cake,” filmmaker Matthew Vaughn has done an excellent job of reinvigorating different movie genres to great effect. His “Kick-Ass” was the comic book movie many were too afraid to make, and I like to think it paved the way for “Deadpool.” He brought the “X-Men” franchise back to vibrant life with the prequel “X-Men: First Class,” and it was a prequel which put so many others like it to shame. And then he gave us “Kingsman: The Secret Service” which turned the world of spy movies upside down. In a time where James Bond, Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” movies and the Jason Bourne franchise ruled the spy genre with an iron fist, Vaughn made “Kingsman” stand out amongst the competition to where it felt fresh and unique as it was filled with invigorating action sequences and characters who were wonderfully realized and as suave as 007 is without being anywhere as cold.

While Vaughn skipped out of doing follow-ups to “X-Men: First Class” and “Kick-Ass,” it was very re-assuring to see him come back to co-write and direct “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” Now that all the origin stuff is out of the way, we can now watch Eggsy Unwin/a.k.a. Galahad (Taron Egerton) battle the enemies of the world in a beautifully tailored suit without having to prove to us he is worthy of the status he has attained.

Indeed, Vaughn refuses to keep us waiting as “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” opens with a gangbusters action sequence in which Eggsy fights former Kingsman trainee Charlie (Edward Holcroft) in the back of a taxi as it hurtles through the streets of London while Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blasts away on the speakers. It’s a lively introduction to a movie as Vaughn looks to be holding nothing back, and it made me eager to see if he could top what came before.

But just as Eggsy looks to be settling down with the beautiful Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), a sudden attack completely decimates the Kingsman suit shop and its headquarters to where he and his trainer and die-hard John Denver fan Merlin (Mark Strong) are desperate to defeat the nemesis who laid waste to their well-dressed intelligence community. They eventually discover their chief antagonist is the notorious criminal mastermind Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) who looks to gain worldwide stardom as a drug dealer, and this leads them to join up with their American counterpart, the Statesman, in an effort to exact revenge.

At this point, I should say while “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” proved to be a fun time at the movies for me, it does have flaws impossible to ignore. With a running time of over two hours, I couldn’t help but think a lot of fat could have been trimmed as this sequel feels overstuffed with characters Vaughn can’t give enough attention to as he tries, perhaps too hard, to subvert our expectations as this movie heads towards its unsurprisingly violent climax. Also, while the original was full of anarchic energy, this one settles into a rhythm which might seem more conventional than “Kingsman” fans may care for.

Still, I had a giddy time with this sequel, and one of the main joys I got from it was the casting of Julianne Moore as she gives us one of the most lovely and appealing sociopaths I have ever seen in a movie. Her character of Poppy Adams is the world’s biggest drug dealer, but she suffers from homesickness while hiding away in the undiscovered ruins of Southeast Asia. Poppy ends up curing her homesickness by making her hideout into a 1950’s theme park which evokes memories of “American Graffiti” and the classic television show “Happy Days.” I kept waiting for The Fonz to show up, but Poppy ends up entertaining herself with a certain musician who should remain nameless before you watch this sequel.

Moore is clearly having a great time co-starring in this “Kingsman” movie as she makes Poppy into a villain who is as delightful as she is devious. Even as she entertains prospective applicants wishing to join her evil empire, it doesn’t take much for her to show an ever so subtle psychosis with those who have failed her as they meet a fate as grisly as the one who got put into a wood chipper in the movie “Fargo.” Even as her actions show her to be incredibly vicious, Moore is a hoot throughout to where she makes it hard for us to hate Poppy even though we should despise her from the get go. She also has kidnapped a certain musician who… Well, I will leave you to discover the identity of the superstar she has kidnapped for her own personal entertainment.

While this sequel does tread familiar ground, it allows our protagonists to travel to Kentucky where they meet their American equivalent, the Statesman who have a flair for alcohol as Kingsman does for clothing. It also allows for charming American actors like Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry to join the party in a variety of roles which they fit them like a glove. It’s especially nice to see Berry in something good after appearing in the critical debacle released this past summer which was “Kidnap.”

One who stands out in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is Chilean-American actor Pedro Pascal, best known for his work in “Game of Thrones” and “Narcos,” as Statesman secret agent Whiskey. Pascal has a wonderful Burt Reynolds vibe going on here, and I don’t just mean his mustache. He also proves to be incredibly effective with a lasso, albeit an electronic one which can decapitate its victims as well as capture them before they can escape.

As for the cast members from the original, Taron Egerton does a wonderful job of taking Gary “Eggsy” Unwin to the next stage in his life as we watch his character continue his journey from leading an aimless life to embracing one filled with purpose. Eggsy still has his friends from the past, but he is open to embracing a future which includes a lifelong commitment to the woman he loves. It’s not often you see a spy movie where a secret agent calls his girlfriend to ask for permission to sleep with the enemy in order to save the world.

Mark Strong also gets to have more fun with his character of Merlin as he gets to be more of a field agent this time out. Strong also makes Merlin’s funniest moments feel genuine to where it feels more emotionally moving than I expected. His rendition of a particular John Denver song carries more meaning these days than when it first became a hit, and it makes for of this sequel’s most unforgettable moments even as the Monty Python bit, “Farwell to John Denver,” kept playing in my head as I watched him.

And yes, it is so great to see Colin Firth back as Harry Hart. While Harry suffered a rather grisly fate in the original, this character had to come back in one way or another. Even as Harry struggles to remember the secret agent he once was, Firth invests him with a dignity and sense of duty which empowers his performance in a very memorable way.

When all is said and done, I did have a lot of fun with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” regardless of its flaws. At almost 2 hours and 30 minutes, it runs a lot longer than it should, and it does suffer from overkill as Vaughn looks at times to be desperate in topping what came before. The sequel also could have been more anarchic as the original lovingly laid waste to many spy movie clichés. This one threatens to be a little more conventional, but it still embraces its R-rating with a lot of glee.

Rumor has it that Vaughn already has a third “Kingsman” in the works, and it would be great to see this franchise grow even further. But if he is to make another one, my hope is he embraces the anarchic nature of the original more than he did here. As spy movies continue to be made, the genre will always need a swift kick in the butt.

* * * out of * * * *

 

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The People vs. George Lucas

the-people-vs-george-lucas-poster

It’s fascinating to see the trajectory George Lucas’ career has taken in the arena of public opinion. Here is a man who for years was beloved by everyone on the planet for creating “Star Wars,” who beat the Hollywood studios at their own game and opened us up to a world of tremendous and endless imagination. Then came the “special editions” of the original “Star Wars” trilogy which served to fund the prequels, and then the prequels followed shortly afterward, and he went from being seen as a demigod to being treated like a pariah of the worst kind. Our love for Lucas has long since turned into a vicious hatred which had us out for blood, but has he really become just another greedy CEO, or are we all just being a bunch of ungrateful bastards?

Those issues are examined in Alexandre O. Philippe’s highly entertaining documentary, “The People vs. George Lucas.” After all these years we finally get to see the filmmaker have his day in court. Granted, he only appears in past footage of interviews and behind the scenes stuff, but Philippe does make it seem like he’s giving his side of the story here.

This could have been just a one-sided portrait of Lucas and the venom he has inadvertently inspired in the most devoted fans, but what’s great about this documentary is how it gives us a multi-faceted view of him. We see Lucas’ humble beginnings and how he developed a love for film and a deep hatred for the corporations which took over Hollywood. We feel for him when he talks about how upset he was at film executives who re-cut “THX-1138” and “American Graffiti,” and we find ourselves rooting for him to gain his independence from the studio system forever. The fact he accomplished this through getting exclusive merchandise rights on “Star Wars” was a kick because no studio will ever let another filmmaker get away with such a thing ever again.

Then we see how Lucas, through gaining his independence, became the very thing he fought against. There’s a great interview with Francis Ford Coppola who talks about the filmmaker Lucas could have been and of how many great films he had inside of him, but the success of “Star Wars” ended up enslaving him for life. Lucas has said, with the conclusion of the prequel trilogy, he was going to make the smaller and more experimental films he always wanted to make, but he soon found himself drawn back to the galaxy far, far away when it became possible to do 3D versions of each “Star Wars” movie.

Philippe also shows us how Lucas is full of contradictions. On one hand, this is a filmmaker who fought against the colorization of black-and-white movies, and yet he will do nothing to save the original versions of the first “Star Wars” trilogy. Many feel like he totally ignored the fans who helped build “Star Wars” into a mighty franchise by giving them “The Phantom Menace” and Jar Jar Binks, but even he agreed with them that “The Star Wars Christmas Special” was a huge mistake.

By presenting all the different sides of Lucas, we don’t come out of this documentary loving or hating him. In the end, he’s human like the rest of us, prone to making inescapable mistakes like anybody else. While many despise him for how the “Star Wars” prequels turned out or for what he did to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” his never-ending imagination has created splendid worlds we would all love to be a part of.

One of the great things about “The People vs. George Lucas” is watching the fan made films and parodies which “Star Wars” inspired. Seeing filmmakers use stop motion animation, anime and other methods is a lot of fun to take in. Among the best bits were “Troops” which is a spoof of the TV show “Cops” but with Storm Troopers, and the “Misery” parody which has Annie Wilkes making the injured George Lucas rewrite “Revenge of the Sith” the way she wants to see it. Why she didn’t make him rewrite “The Phantom Menace” remains a mystery.

In many ways, the “Star Wars” prequels and even the last “Indiana Jones” movie were victims of our intense anticipation for them. They represented a way to once again experience the things in our childhood which made us so happy to be alive, and we would give anything to feel like a kid again when it comes to movies. But in the end, our excitement for these movies was undone not because we expected more from them, but because our anticipation proved to be more exciting than the finished product. To put it in another way, here’s a quote from Lewis Black:

“There is no better moment than this moment when we’re anticipating the actual moment itself. All of the moments that lead up to the actual moment are truly the best moments. Those are the moments that are filled with good times. Those are the moments in which you are able to think that it is going to be perfect when the moment actually happens. But, the moment is reality and reality always kind of sucks!”

The anticipation for “The Phantom Menace” was higher than any other movie before it, and there was no way it could have completely satisfied everyone. In retrospect, our excitement for the prequels proved to be far more enthralling than what ended up on the silver screen because we wanted them to be one thing, and Lucas ended up going against our expectations whether he intended to or not.

What “The People vs. George Lucas” seems to suggest in the end is that we should be thankful he continued with “Star Wars” at all. It also suggests that, despite our utter disappointment at the prequels, he still gave us a wealth of imagination we can still be deeply inspired by. Had this been just a documentary dedicated to bashing Lucas to within an inch of his life, it would have become tiresome and boring very quickly. But “The People vs. George Lucas” is great because it gives us the different dimensions of the man and shows us how the ways he fought the system ended up working against him in later years. This is a great documentary that will appeal to fans and non-fans of “Star Wars,” and that’s assuming there are any non-“Star Wars” fans on this planet or others.

* * * * out of * * * *


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/14623364″>The People vs. George Lucas – Trailer #3</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user2655015″>The People vs. George Lucas</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>