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

 

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – Humanity’s Conflict With Nature and Finding Balance

The Lost World Jurassic Park

     “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” is a great sequel. It is a good thing Spielberg was in charge of it since he is a good director at creating complex characters and giving situations where actual stakes are involved, while still managing to give the film a heart. He is one of the greats for a reason and him directing the follow-up to the original was the right decision.

  The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by David Koepp, produced by Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson and based off The Lost World by Michael Crichton.

    The story involves Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) going to Site B, the Island of Isla Sorna to rescue his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) who has gone there in order to record Dinosaurs in their natural state for a documentary so that humans won’t exploit them. They are too late and things get complicated when Hammond’s nephew Ludlow (Arliss Howard) arrives with a team to capture the Dinosaurs and take them to a park in San Diego as well as the arrival of Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), which complicates things further.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Janusz Kaminski did a wonderful job and as expected Spielberg has a good eye for how to cast a scene. The character scenes as well as the action scenes mean something and we get the chance to get to know the minor characters by how the action is presented.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is one of the greats for a reason and in this his soundtrack is great at creating tension and rising action. Each action scene felt big because of his soaring score.

The Action – This is one of the better action movies I have seen. There are so many moments that I remember and will remember. I’ll record the ones that stand out the most as they deserve recognition.

Hanging By a Rope – Van Owen and Harding rescue the trapped Tyrannosaurus baby and after they fix it’s leg the parents destroy the van, eventually this leads to it falling over the edge and it is only from the actions of Eddie Car releasing a rope through the van that they are able to get to rescue. Eddie dies in the process though.

The Raptor Hunt – At one point the hunters are running and the Raptors methodically take nearly every single one of them out. It is only the few that survive through luck and quick thinking showing just how dangerous they are.

The Tyrannosaurus Hunt – The T. Rex proceeds to cause chaos in the camp for the capture of it’s child. One of them is captured by Roland while the other slaughters the hunters the Raptors don’t get too.

the Tyrannosaurus in San Diego – This is quintessential Monster Movie here as we see a T. Rex escape from it’s cage and proceed to decimate San Diego. It is really well done and a lot of the destruction caused is simply from people afraid that it exists. It was very well cast and showed once again just how dangerous this creature is. I liked it.

The Characters – There are quite a few great characters in this! From Dr. Harding and Dr. Malcolm and the hunter Roland as well as the Earth First activist. Each of them are more complicated than any archetype, which leads to some great interaction and character growth over the course of the film.

Eddie Carr – This minor character dies to the T. Rex’s but not before he saves his friends. He idealizes Dr. Harding but we see he is good at his job too as it is his creativity that saves our heroes in the first place. Richard Schiff did a great job and his death meant something.

John Hammond – Hammond has changed from the industrialist to the conservationist and it is a really good arc the events at “Jurassic Park” changed him. He is wonderful as the wise wizard who has learned from his mistakes while still being wily and reckless.

Nick Van Owen – I don’t like Vince Vaughn, he tends to be a dick in real life and his characters he plays. This character wasn’t as bad and him being a dick worked as he was an extreme activist who put others at risk to rescue animals. He is never presented as the good guy but you get why he is doing it too, especially since these dinosaurs are endangered by their very existence and he wants to safeguard that.

Roland Tembo – Peter Postlewaite does an awesome job in this role! He is the hunter who lives for the thrill of it and has respect for the animals he hunts as he sees himself as fulfilling his greater purpose. When his friend is killed on the Island though he decides he is done after he captures the T. Rex and has had enough of death. I don’t think he’ll stop hunting but he won’t work with people like Ludlow anymore…folks who don’t value human life.

Dr. Sarah Harding – Julianne Moore plays the naive idealist who learns to not be reckless around dinosaurs while still fulfilling her mission of saving the ones on the Island. She saves Malcolm a few times which makes up for times he had to save her in the beginning. She is a strong character who does what she wants.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the nervous scientist played by Jeff Goldblume who carries on the lessons of “Jurassic Park” about keeping dinosaurs away from human beings. He is the Spock to Sarah’s Kirk and his arc is learning how to feel for others better as we see him have to put himself out there to protect Sarah his girlfriend and to protect his daughter and support her beyond words. It is a great arc and it is him coming into his own as a person who can look beyond himself.

Respect for the Natural World – The message is through Hammond’s action. He was a man who wanted people to feel wonder and live the vision he created, on his death bed though he only wants the creatures he created to be respected as he realized he didn’t before by keeping them in cages. It is to this end that he sent them on a mission to protect his creations. It is a good arc since the Dinosaurs aren’t idealized, they are animals like anything else and deserve the chance to flourish. This basis of respect while still not forgetting humans creativity in development is part of what makes this film so great.

A T.Rex is still a T.Rex (even if you save it’s baby) – I really like that part of respect is respecting the space of hunters, be it humanity or the T. Rex. The heroes save the baby T. Rex but there van is destroyed by the T. Rexes. The nature of a T. Rex does not change and the saving of their baby doesn’t change the fact that T. Rexs eat smaller animals which include humans. I’m glad that in the conversation talk it was still smart. A tiger will still try and kill you, even if you return it’s cub back.

Okay: Peter Ludlow – Hammond’s nephew is all about making InGen profitable again but he does nearly have a change of heart when the T. Rex is reeking havoc, he only changes his mind when he realizes that the T. Rex baby could be his only out from facing major consequences for his stupidity. He was alright as an antagonist.

Kelly – Child actors have a difficult time and Vanessa Chester does alright as Kelly. She is a daughter ignored by both her parents so she acts out for attention while still trying to be successful to impress her folks. Her arc is finding confidence and building a relationship with her dad. I did think it was stupid she kicked a raptor using gymnastics, but besides that she wasn’t a bad character, just not a great character.

I remembered liking this more than “Jurassic Park” as the Dinosaurs felt like actual animals and T. Rex’s won’t save the day against Raptors since they want to eat you too…this is part of the reason I’m curious if it will still be the case when I get to “Jurassic Park.” Which will be better to me, the original or the sequel “The Lost World?” Well, well see when I get there.  Suffice to say I enjoyed this film greatly and would watch it again. It is definitely a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10. Solidly great film.

Seventh Son (2014): Bland Leads and Would Have Worked Better as a Mini-Series or Videogame

Seventh Son

    “Seventh Son” was okay. For what it is worth it did get me interested on the book it is based on and the side characters are far more interesting and compelling than the leads (Jeff Bridges, Kit Harrington and Julianne Moore) are characters so there is that, but so much of the world feels unfully fleshed out and the story does feel rushed, like it was trying to take advantage of the fantasy in cinema interest going on right now. I’ll get into more of that in the assessment though. This is a decent rental but the limitations of film don’t serve this film justice and the presentation would have worked better as a really good videogame.

    The film was directed by Sergei Bodrov, written by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight and produced by Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull and Lionel Wigram, and based off the story The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney.

    The story involves Gregory (Jeff Bridges) searching for the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son since they are gifted at fighting Witches and the Queen of Witches Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) escaped and killed his last apprentice Bradley (Kit Harrington). This leads him to Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) who is the last Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and also has magic in his blood as his mother is a Witch. He must train Tom before the Blood Moon when Mother Malkin will be at full power and impossible to stop.

The Pros: The World – The world is interesting as there are Witches who are shapeshifters and aren’t all bad as well as their being many other creatures and beasts like Bogarts, Wights, etc. Some of whom aren’t bad. This isn’t fully explored though as so much of the plot is focused on Tom and his romance that the plot didn’t need.

Bradley – Kit Harrington does a great job and would have been great in the role of Tom as his character has a lot of personality and is the happy go lucky one to the bitterness of Bridges’s Gregory. He sadly dies pretty early on to Mother Malkin in his Spook Apprenticeship to Gregory.

Gregory – Jeff Bridges is wonderful and I like how you get why he is bitter as Malkin was his lover before he got married and after she killed his family and his apprentices he carries nothing but hate and anger. He makes a great character though and Bridges makes him sympathetic. His relationship with Bradley and Malkin would have made this a great story, but sadly we get boring leads instead.

Mother Malkin – Julianne Moore hams this role up and does a great job of reveling in being evil for the sake of power. She is a good threat and far more interesting than those who follow her. He backstory being Gregory’s lover gives her depth too and motivation for what she does, she wants to get back for being trapped and wronged.

The Cons: Story Execution – The story execution is bad, largely due to the focus on our uninteresting leads of Tom and Alice who are blank slates and contrived love. The actors and script can’t carry those characters and it brings down the dynamic between Malkin and Gregory.

The Lieutenants – We don’t know anything about them though they have cool designs, from an army of stone, a shape-shifter and a multi-armed killer though we never get their motivations and they would have been much funner in a videogame, not a film.

The Other Witches – The other witches are plot devices. Alice and Tom’s mothers dies to show that not all witches are bad and to motivate the characters to change. They don’t ever feel like characters, they are there to drive plot and that is it.

Alice – She is the spy for Malkin but changes sides because she loves Tom. She has no motivation outside of love for Tom which was contrived since all she had was his saving her life. The actress is also really bland.

Tom Ward – Ben Barnes was horrible in this role. He wore one expression the entire time and he was written as a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. He’s half witch and a Seventh Son so he can do anything and has all the magic powers! This felt super contrived and plot armor kept him alive when he should have died on a few occasions. Super weak writing and terrible acting.

 This is a movie that would be fun to watch and mock with friends or if you want something that you don’t have to think deeply about. It’s a throwaway film and not my kind of movie though I do want to read the book now, so there is that. It isn’t good though, it’s okay at best and again, it’s a film that would be most enjoyable mocking with friends and having in the background.

Final Score: 6 / 10