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KINGSMAN 2: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

dir. Matthew Vaughn
reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki

Fans of spy films were overjoyed when Kingsman: The Secret Service dropped on Valentine’s Day weekend in 2015, providing action-packed and less cynically made competition to the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. When I walked out of a packed screening on opening weekend, there was an extra spring in my step, the kind that only a special, awe-inspiring film can truly bring out of someone.

I’d just seen the spy film equivalent to John Wick, another excellent action film that’d only opened four months prior– a perfectly crafted, much raunchier and harder-edged sendup of the most patently ridiculous Bond fare.

Think Moonraker or Die Another Day, if they’d been a hard R, had the audacity to show stuff like an active US president’s head exploding, and wasn’t made to cynically attract the Star Wars or MTV audience. (For the record, I do love Die Another Day, but if the shoe fits…) Now, when I walked out of a less packed screening on opening weekend for its sequel here, I’d left feeling like I just watched a sequel.

Eggsy and Merlin are back to take on Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a druglord who somehow managed a global monopoly on drug trade, when her assistance from the vengeful Kingsman reject Charlie (Edward Holcroft) enables her to blow up every Kingsman headquarters across England. The two surviving members seek the help of their American cousins in Statesman, a world-renowned whiskey distillery, and are surprised to find Harry Hart (Colin Firth) in their laboratory, although without his memory.

Poppy has filled all of her drugs with a chemical agent leading its users to a fast and painful death, which immediately affects hundreds of millions of people around the world, and offers an antidote if the President of the United States agrees to end the War on Drugs. The whole affair becomes personal for Eggsy when he discovers his girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) is among the millions affected.

While the first film is a bonafide masterpiece of modern spy cinema, my enjoyment of this film was more reserved, and came more from smaller pieces of the puzzle than the sum of their parts. Poppy didn’t have the bite or quirk that made Richmond Valentine such an interesting villain in the first one, and it isn’t just that he was played by Samuel L. Jackson, he was just better developed altogether.

The strengths to this film kept it from falling too far into a sophomore slump, however. The scenes developing Eggsy and Tilde’s relationship were pretty great, showing a sacrifice to Eggsy’s honor that affects him in a meaningful way throughout the rest of the film. The colorful cast out of the Statesman crew were a joy to behold, especially Channing Tatum in his painfully brief role.

Last, but most importantly, every single scene with Elton John was a treat, playing himself kidnapped by Poppy for her own personal entertainment in her private compound. Maybe I didn’t see a sequel that held par to its excellent predecessor, but I did have a silly grin watching Elton John, in a peacock suit, slam a piano lid down on one of Poppy’s guards while “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” was playing. I was enjoying the movie more or less up to this point, but his glorified cameo totally lifted my spirits.

As was the case in the first film, the action scenes themselves are well-choreographed, well-shot, creative and spirited from concept, and altogether handled wonderfully. Somebody whose main takeaway from the first film was its impressive setpieces will be satisfied here. However, nothing in it compares to the breathtaking church fight in the first film, and the rest of the film falling prey to sequelitis is far less acceptable when earlier this year, John Wick: Chapter 2 was easily able to hold a candle to its predecessor overall.

I hope you’ve seen Last Action Hero, which I would unabashedly rank as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best film. Yes, better than Terminator 2: Judgment Day. If you haven’t, please do, it’s a movie ripe for rediscovery. Anyway, in it, Arnold stars as the titular hero in the fictional film-within-a-film Jack Slater IV which, like this film, has a gunplay-laden car chase less than two minutes into its runtime.

When the same thing happened in this film, it immediately reminded me of Jack Slater IV, and I was never able to shake the comparison. The difference between the two, however, is that Jack Slater IV‘s entire existence was a joke, making a mockery of star-driven action movies from the time. This film actually exists, and while it never goes to the extent of showing a full-on cartoon cat as a character, it feels like it’s never that far off from doing so.

It made me wonder how differently this movie would’ve played out had some rando in the audience suddenly jumped into the narrative, disrupting the movie to go on an adventure with Eggsy and Merlin. Would it be better, I don’t know… but I feel like the stench of sequelitis wouldn’t be there quite as much.