Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Edwin Arnaudin: I’m calling it now — this year's Best Supporting Actor race will come down to Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Elton John in Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
Bruce Steele: Since we can’t see Hamill until December, I’ll have to cast my vote for Elton. I think it’s the best instance of a celebrity playing himself in movie since Being John Malkovich, and it’s much more outrageously entertaining. Julianne Moore camps it up too as Poppy, the saccharine and sadistic head of the worldwide drug trade, working out of what looks like a “Happy Days” theme park in an extinct Cambodian volcano.
Edwin: Agreed. They’re all in on the joke, carefully cultivated by co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn in the surprise hit series starter 3.5 years ago. He wastes no time reacquainting viewers with young spy Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the Q-like Merlin (Mark Strong) and the rest of the British intelligence agency with a tailor front — and it’s a wild, bloody, entertaining ride for the next 130-plus minutes.
Bruce: Vaughn nails the tongue-in-cheek comic book tone, especially with his kinetic camerawork, a kind of blend of Austin Powers cultural shtick and John Wick cartoon gore.
Edwin: It’s a combination that I don’t think anyone else is attempting — and if they are, they’re not succeeded to a degree that it’s stuck with me.
Bruce: And despite introducing Stateman, the cowboy-themed U.S. equivalent of the Kingman secret service, the movie is not crowded. The new Stateman agents played by Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry are appealing but never leave their HQ, and Channing Tatum’s role is barely more than an cameo.
Edwin: After a long dry spell in her inconsistent career, Berry is delightful in nerd mode as Strong’s American equivalent. I could have used more Tatum and especially extra doses of Bridges, but then we’d be dealing with a runtime approaching three hours. My attention never really wavered, but do you feel like certain scenes, details or entire plot strands and characters could have been excised to the film’s benefit?
Bruce: Eggsy’s romance with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström) and his seduction of Clara (Poppy Delevingne), the girlfriend of robot-armed bad guy Charlie (Edward Holcroft), get more screen time than they need, but I suspect that’s an intentional effort to add feminine sex appeal to a heavily masculine movie. Also, the resuscitation of Harry (Colin Firth) is a bit dragged out — though compared with Twin Peaks’ recent 16-hour delay in bringing back Agent Cooper, it was but a moment. Anyway, I wasn’t looking at my watch. There was too much else going on. Did you have a favorite action sequence?
Edwin: There’s a lot from which to choose. I know my least favorite one is the opening battle between Eggsy and Charlie, which was shot in such a claustrophobic and energetic style that it made me wonder if my allegiance to the first film was misplaced. That sloppy approach isn’t present in the big finale, during which Sir Elton plays a key hilarious role. Nor does it rear its head in the barroom brawl where Harry’s timing isn’t quite back, prompting Whiskey (Pedro "Oberyn Martell” Pascal from Game of Thrones) to show off his skills with a bull whip and lasso, the latter of which Eggsy humorously dubs “skipping rope.” Which throw downs stood out to you?
Bruce: I really liked the finale, in part because it wasn’t grandiose. This Kingsman movie gets its massive CG-created destruction out of the way early on, then sticks to more contained confrontations – dozens of henchmen, not hundreds. It’s an admirable decision in this bigger-is-better movie climate, and it keeps the focus on the characters. The Statesmen are fairly stock, but all the Kingmen have nice moments along the way. I actually liked Eggsy this time out.
Edwin: The sense of loss among this tight-knit group likewise raises the stakes of the last battle. By thinning the already limited number of central players, the characters who can say, “I'm still standing" — shout out to Lucas McKee! — make the all-or-nothing mission personal. Are you down for a third adventure with this now international crew?
Bruce: I’m ready for Kingsman Issue No. 3 any time, especially if Halle Berry gets to pick up one of those electric whips. And Elton John must return for the next installment. This one’s not perfect, but it’s a hoot. B-plus from me.
Edwin: Ditto to all of the above. I slightly prefer the freshness of Kingsman: The Secret Service as far as introducing this world and these characters, but think the two films complement each other and will be ready for more (Moore?) whenever it’s ready.
Grade: Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photos: Twentieth Century Fox)