Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) – An Unmemorable Sequel

   “The Golden Circle” is a film that really should have been about the “Statesman” (The American Secret Service of this film) or just a day in the life of “The Kingsman.” It is in the film going big and trying to recreate the magic of the first film that ends up being the biggest reason it falls flat. It isn’t a bad film by any means, but the strongest moments are the character moments, not the action and this is an action heavy film on an apocalyptic scale, just like the first film…and the writing just isn’t up to par. Before I get into spoilers, if you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably enjoy this one, I just hope that if a third film is made that they go small and give us a more character driven story than the we got this time around.

The film was directed by Matthew Vaughn who co-wrote it with Jane Goldman and produced the film with David Reid and Adam Bohling. The series is based off the comics called the “Kingsman” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

The story this time around involves the drug Kingpin Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) attacking all the Kingsman hideouts after one of the former members helps her hack them. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) are the only ones left, as they follow the emergency protocol where they must team up with their American counterparts known as the Statesman to stop her and her plans.

SPOILERS ahead

First I want to get into what works about the film. The Statesman are a fascinating group and Bridges “Champ” is a lot of fun as the leader of the organization. Though, Bridges is good in everything he’s in, even when the films suck. The Statesman is based in a Kentucky Distillery and has a cowboy aesthetic to contrast with the gentlemen aesthetic. I really want a movie about them after seeing this, hell this could have been their movie and Merlin and Eggsy could have been agents sent over to help with the drug problem that drives the plot without the Kingsman being destroyed. Since the two of them are fantastic.

Merlin and Eggsy are easily once the best parts of the film. Mark Strong continues to give both warmth and the cold edge of an agent and Eggsy has embraced his role as an agent even as he still holds onto the life he had before with his friends from his past life. They don’t really have an arc in this, but seeing them as the only members of the Kingsman worked, though I wish their entire organization hadn’t been killed. For one Roxy was a great character who we will now never see in the field again.

Poppy is a villain who is a lot of fun and fits perfectly into this universe. She is a drug Kingpin who wants to legalize all drugs so that she’ll be recognized as the richest woman in the world. Her base is in South America and designed like a 50’s town, which fits her messed up mentality where she feeds people who betray her to her other minions. She also has robotic dogs that are really cool and fit into this universe really well. Her plan is to infect everyone with her drugs and give the antidote once heroin is legalized. It is a pretty great plan and she is a difficult enemy to beat.

Galahad’s arc surprisingly works. If you’ve seen the previews you know Colin Firth’s character Galahad is back and in this we learn that he was a scientist before he joined the Kingsman so his arc is reactivating his memories so he can help when the Kingsman and Statesman start losing to Poppy. It is always good to see this character and as much as I hate characters coming back, the fact that it took the entire film for him to come back, made it worth it narratively.

Now for what didn’t work. At one point Poppy captures Elton John and after that he is used as a joke and reference through the entire film. It is really annoying and grating and there was zero reason for it to be in the film. It was never funny and just distracted from the plot.

Over-dependence on action is a major problem too. I get this is a spy film but the first film managed to have a lot of great moments of reflection that we never get in this, even though Eggsy and Merlin’s friends are all dead. The movie was so focused on moving to the next action set piece that it hurt the story.

The love story with the Princess also didn’t work and there was no reason for it to exist, especially since it leads to a weird scene with Eggsy sleeping with one of the enemy’s girlfriends. The entire love story felt contrived and after that scene…it just felt awkward, unneeded and it distracted from what little of an arc Eggsy has in this film.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is a film I’ll recommend if you like a good action film and enjoyed the first movie. It isn’t nearly as great as the first movie, but it is a solid sequel as we get to know Galahad’s backstory, there is a great villain and the Statesman are a fun organization. I wish it had been more focused though, this is a film that could have been great as a “Statesman” film or as a mission with the entire Kingsman team in action. Sadly this was a film that failed to measure up to its own ambitions. Once again, still worth your time if you are looking for a good action film or loved the first one.

Final Score: 8 / 10

 

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“The Librarians” Season 1 – An Amazing Show That Takes the Best Aspects of “Indiana Jones” and “Doctor Who”

the-librarians-season-1

   “The Librarians” is such a great series. Never have I watched a series that captures the fun, adventure and hope of humanity so well since “Doctor Who,” and not only that it does it with the fun and camp adventure of “Indiana Jones.” Suffice to say, for my non-spoiler thoughts…Season 1 is worth checking out if you are a fan of any of the media I mentioned above. The show was born out of two made for tv movies on TNT, both of which I’ll be checking out later.

    The series was created by John Rodgers and airs on TNT.

    The story involves the Librarian Flynn (Noah Flynn) being forced to have another Guardian in the Special Forces NATO soldier Colonel Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) and taking on apprentices when the Library chooses them knowing challenges are coming to it’s existence.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! There are magical beings, monsters, treaties, spells, alternate dimensions and characters out of stories as well as the fascinating characters who inhabit these worlds.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack has a hopeful epic quality to it, much like “Doctor Who” with elements of “Indiana Jones” thrown in for good measure. Joseph LoDuca did a great job composing the score.

The Mythology – The mythology is fantastic as we have characters out of Aurthurian Legend shape the world around them. From Morgan La Fey and her trying to escape from our world, from Galahad working with the Library and Lancelot trying to bring back Camelot at it’s height. It is a rich mythology that is the core of the show including the timelessness of “The Library” and the different myths and legends that the Librarians explore.

Adventure – The sense of adventure is one of the strongest parts of this show. It kicks off this way with the pilot and stays true throughout as we travel through time, adventures, ancient temples and magical realms. It is absolutely a fun ride.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the show, each of them has great motivations behind what they do and are not as simple as they first appear to be. These are the ones who carry the show.

Lamia – Lamia is Dulaque’s second-in-command and is a great threat as she takes control of Excalibur and King Arthur’s Crown and uses it to bring magic into the world. Sadly Dulaque kills her in the end to bring back his height of power but we do see her as Cassandra’s second-in-command in an alternate future where Dragons have destroyed everything.

Santa Claus – Bruce Campbell plays Santa and he’s a lot of fun. He manages to capture all the variations of the archetype through time, from St. Nick, to Santa and all the way back to Thor. I kind of hope we see him again, Campbell clearly had fun with the role.

Morgan La Fey –  Alicia Witt does an amazing job at creating a powerful and sympathetic Morgan La Fey. From her history with Jenkins, to Eve being the only one to hurt her in centuries and her desiring escape rather than power. This is a character with dimension who I can’t wait to see again.

Jenkins / Galahad – John Larroquette is great in the mentor role as Galahad/Jenkins the overseer of the Library who help the Librarians train up and to grow. His arc is choosing to fight again after he’s retreated into his work because of how much life/Morgan La Fey/Lancelot have hurt him. It takes his relationship to Eve and the Librarians to find himself again and become the hero of old once more.

Dulaque / Lancelot – Dulaque is a great threat, and I wish we had had more time with him. We see him attempt to overthrow the Library in the Conclave of the magical organizations. He is both a strong threat magically as well as physically. We also see a man who is desperate for the good old days of old, which gives him dimension as every conversation with Galahad reveals that it was his idealism that lead to his fall. Like in the book, Lancelot is a tragic figure.

Jacob – Jacob is a Texan the Library calls who has a love of art and culture and huge tie to family obligation. His arc is finding adventure and learning to see a world outside of his family as well as trust his team. Christian Kane really does a good job. He becomes The Librarian in a post-apocalyptic war reality.

Ezekiel – Ezekiel is a thief and this comes in handy on multiple occasions as he is already his worst self so his arc is finding his nobility and best self. We see this happen over time as he helps Cassandra get past her guilt and is a key player in most of the stories. The character annoyed me at first but he is now a favorite. His arc is fantastic and I liked his sci. fi. Librarian in the reality where ghosts had taken over. John Kim did an amazing job in the role.

Cassandra – Cassandra is one of the new librarians who has a tumor in her brain that helps her visualize thoughts and patterns. She is a great character who starts out betraying the Librarians an the Library but fights for them in the end and spends her arc earning back their trust and making peace with her death that will eventually come. Her story is powerful and Lindy Booth lends the role so much power. In the dimension where she is The Librarian she is a powerful magician who was trained by Morgan La Fey and uses her magic to pull all the other Librarians from their dimension bringing the team together for the final fight against Dulaque.

Colonel Eve Baird – Eve is a skeptic who becomes a believer in magic over the course of the show and has to learn how to be a leader but not necessarily a soldier, as none of the Librarians have any military training. It is when she thinks outside the box as Guardian that we see her really flourish. It is thanks to her that the Universe is saved and the Loom of Fate restored to normal as she helps Flynn find his power once as the Librarian and empowers as the other Librarians in the realities where they are the only Librarian. Rebecca Romijn is a great actress.

Flynn – Noah Wyle could play an american Doctor in “Doctor Who,” his role as the Librarian who kicks everything off is imbued with the love of adventure, arrogance and courage in the face of world ending threats. He was the character who got me hooked on the show and it is thanks to him I came to care about the other Librarians. I can’t wait to see what happens in Season 2 as we see how his arc of becoming a mentor and team player pays off in the long term of this series.

Okay / Cons: Too Pulp At Times – There are some episodes where the camp dialogue almost makes the show too campy. What counters this and why I’m not putting it as a complete con is that the characters are compelling enough to get around some of the hokey dialogue and threats.

The Cons: Will Death Happen? – Eve is brought back to life when Flynn brings back the Library. My fear with this is that we will get into “Doctor Who” territory where no one dies so the villains never end up feeling like a threat. They felt like a threat this season so maybe this won’t be an issue, but Eve’s resurrection at the end was an issue for me as related to future stories.

  This is overwhelmingly a solid show and even though I have fears that death won’t mean anything (which is the same problem I have with “Doctor Who” and some writing choices Moffat pulled). The characters overwhelmingly carry the show through the moments of really camp writing and I love all of the Librarians. Each of them is compelling and gets developed into a fully 3 Dimensional character. I can’t wait to watch Season 2 and learn some more of Flynn’s backstory in the TNT films. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this first season of this series.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014): A Masterful and Fun Deconstruction and Celebration of Classic Spy Thrillers

Kingsman The Secret Service

    Watching this film made me realize just how much of a fan I am of Matthew Vaughn’s work and that I look forward to reviewing “Snatch” and “Lock,  Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” He is a director who specializes in action, but it always drives the plot and his films are always so much fun. I haven’t seen the two films mentioned above but “Stardust,” “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class” are some truly great films, and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” should be added to that list as well.

      As stated above, Matthew Vaughn directed the film as well as being one of the writers and producers. The other writer was Jane Goldman and the other producers were David Reid and Adam Bohling. The story is based off the graphic novel of the same created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

    The story follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is brought in as a potential recruit to the Secret Kingsman after his Father who was in the Guard saved Harry code name “Galahad” (Colin Firth). He must face the class discrimination from the guard as well as help them to defeat the threat of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who plans to use a chip to make humanity destroy itself as his chosen few create a new humanity from the ashes.

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing in this film! Whether it is Harry taking on a Religious Cult that has the chip turned on and winning, or Eggsy and Merlin infiltrating Valentine’s Headquarters, the action is fantastic and stands out. It manages to be both beautiful and elegant, like the Kingsman.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and compliments the music and writing as it emphasis where a character is emotionally or provides a contrast to the scenes. George Richmond did a great job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is a lot of fun and usually country, or rock or disco will be playing over the action giving it a surreal feel while also showing just how brutal it is. It’s a great use of cinema and music to create such memorable scenes, it is thanks to the soundtracks that so many of the fight scenes stand out beyond how well they were filmed. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson did a great job.

The Story – The story is simple, but it works. Eggsy is the outcast from a poor family pulled into high society and ends up discovering a gentlemen is not based on sex or class, it is about how you treat others and yourself. This is a story that has been done before and there have been tons of spy movies, but this one manages to set itself apart in that Valentine kills Harry and doesn’t give him a chance to escape and Valentine actually succeeds for a few minutes at the end.

The Characters – The characters are the most memorable part of the film, this is due both to the acting and the writing as all of them have distinct personalities that further elevate the plot.

Harry – Colin Firth owns this role as an older badass who manages to take on multiple people on occasion as well as emphasizing that a gentleman is not based on class, race or sex but on how one acts. This comes through all the time with his character when he confronts Arthur to his relationship to Eggsy. His death by Valentine actually means something because of it.

Roxy – Sophie Cookson is good as the nervous recruit who manages to be the new Lancelot. She is great at following orders in contrast to Eggsy but also has much more fear, though that doesn’t stop her from befriending Eggsy and standing up for him against the entitled prats. She stops Valentine by destroying one of his satellites before he can activate the chip the first time.

Gazelle – Sofia Boutella plays Valentine’s assassin and she is fantastic! She has swords for legs and only loses at the end because of a poisoned knife in Eggsy’s shoe. She is a true believer and truly loves Valentine. She is the one who isn’t afraid to kill or murder while Valentine in contrast to his goals is sensitive and afraid of murder and blood. It is great seeing her in action! She kills the first Lancelot who Jack Davenport plays. Not putting him on the list because he was around for such a short amount of time we didn’t get any character.

Arthur – Michael Caine plays the corrupt leader of the Kingsman and he joins Valentine since he thinks humanity deserves to be destroyed due to everything he’s seen in the field. His betrayal I saw coming since it is a cliche point, but Caine handles it well and he is complicated every time we see him as he truly cared for Harry.

Merlin – Mark Strong plays the hacker who manages to help beat Valentine and survive it all. He is the brains and also the one who has great chemistry with Eggsy and Valentine as he never had the same class hangups that Arthur did. Mark Strong makes this character both arrogant and sensitive.

Valentine – Jackson is such an amazing actor! In this we see him play a senstive character with a lisp who just wants to save the world and plans to do it by having humanity destroy itself and keeping the idealists all for himself in order to build a better world. He’s truly a criminal mastermind and his character reminded me a lot of the villain he played in “Unbreakable.” He is weak but brilliant and clearly villain though not a simple character.

Eggsy – Taron Egerton plays a poorer Englishman whose father was a Kingsman. He is a thief and crook who turns around and becomes a gentleman as he begins to care for others beyond his family. His arc is cliche but his character is great as he is self aware of the the spy tropes, like Valentine, this makes him smart and self aware as well as funny too.

Deconstruction of Classic Spy Films – We get to see the weapons room, the gentleman fighter and even sleeping with a princess over the course of Eggsy’s growth while at the same time Valentine and Harry referencing the films they drew inspiration from like Bond or Bourne and throwing those elements away for the smarter move. It was very well done and I like that the self awareness enriched the film.

The Cons: The Introduction – The introduction is a random military operation in a middle eastern country where Eggsy’s father risks his live to save Harry. It would have meant more if we knew something about the operation and the people but since we don’t it functions only as a motivator and was the weakest part of the film thematically and writingwise.

Professor Arnold – Mark Hamill plays this character and all he does is function as a plot devise. W enever get ot know him, we just know what he does. What a waste of Mark Hamill. Wasn’t impressed with how this character was written at all.

This was a really good film that I highly recommend. Not only does it deconstruct and celebrate the genre it drew inspiration from but it manages to be just an all around great film in both music, characters, story and cinematography. I definitely recommend this film to anyone who loves spy films and I plan on reading the graphic novel after this, given there is a lot here and this world has potential to be explored further.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10