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

 

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

Stardust (2007): A Fairy Tale of Love

Stardust

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, Neverwhere, American Gods and Anansi Boys and the Sandman Series are some of my all time favorite fantasy works which makes me somewhat worried by their eventual screen adaptation in film or television form. This film gave me hope that it can be pulled off well though, and this film made me want to read the book that it is adapted from.

“Stardust” was directed by Matthew Vaughn who was also one of the producers and screenplay writers. The other producers were Neil Gaiman, Michael Dreyer and Lorenzo di Bonaventura. The other screenplay writer was Jane Goldman. The fact that Neil Gaiman had a producer credit on an adaptation of his work was a good sign going in to the film.

“Stardust” is the story of two worlds a village called Wall in our world and the magical kingdom of Stormhold that is separated from the wall. The story begins with Dunstan Thorn crossing the wall because he is curious and meeting an imprisoned beautiful woman he shared a night with. Later a child Dunstan names Tristan is left at the wall and the story follows from him  and his journey to learn how to love and in the process discover the heritage of the world he is a part of when he crosses the Wall to catch a falling star for Victoria, the woman he is infatuated with. Around this time the King of Stormhold has died and competition to catch the falling star is on as a Coven of Witches also joins the hunt since a Star’s heart can grant eternal youth and life.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Narrator – Ian McKellen narrates the beginning and end of the story giving it a fairy tale feel and his voice is super memorable and worked wonderfully. I also would have been down with Patrick Stewart being the narrator too, but it was McKellen and he is great!

Cinematography – The Cinematography is amazing and really captures the fantasy feel, the best examples I can think of is the darkness at the wall, Captain Shakespeare’s ship in flight, the falling of the Star and the final fight sequence. All of these made it feel epic and worthy of being on the big screen. Ben Davis did great.

The Music – The music has a “Pirates of the Caribbean” feel which worked in it’s favor, as Sky Pirates appear at one point and the witches and older society it takes place in in our world and Stormhold add ambiance and tension to the world. IIan Eshkeri was the right guy for this film.

The World – I’m largely going to talk about Stormhold here but even the world of England presented is fascinating, as an old man guards the Wall to keep people from getting into Stormhold. Stormhold is a rich world full of royal intrigue, dangerous witches, stars that are living human beings and Sky Pirates. There is so much to love here and I can’t wait to read the book that inspired it all!

The Characters

Dunstan Thorn – The story really starts with him as he crosses the wall and spends a night with the enslaved princess Una. They have a great experience together as she is the experienced person who knows her world and he is the wide eyed idealist. We see him care for his son after too as it was the one thing she wanted from him since he couldn’t rescue her. We also see him support his son Tristan to cross the wall and gives him a Babylon Candle to do so. I wish we’d gotten more of old and young Dunstan. This is where this as a mini-series might have worked better. Ben Barnes (young Dunstan) and Nathaniel Parker (old Dustan) are fantastic in what time they have though.

Princess Una – Uses what little power she has to resist and gives a gift that protects her son Tristan from the witches. I really wish she’d been the one chosen to rule as near the end she’s the one helping Tristan and Yvaine fight back against Lamia and her coven. She was a great but underutilized character. Kate Magowan did well with what she was given.

Prince Septimus – Is an antagonist for most of the film and Mark Strong does a really good job with it as we see him off some of his brothers and try to capture the fallen Star. He is brutal but has complexity too as he works with Tristan in the final fight against Lamia and her coven. His biggest problem is he never brings enough men and he lacks any sort of empathy which is when he is helping Tristan near the end and when he dies it is hard to fully sympathize with him in any way.

Lamia – Michelle Pfeiffer makes a great villain. Her witch is the final boss of the film and deserves the role as we see her be the one with the highest body count at the end and it takes multiple characters to finally defeat her. We see a bit of humanity (even if it was possibly false) when she mourns the death of her Coven Sisters and goes super sayan for the final battle.

Tristan Thorn – He’s the generic hero but he does a good job at the generic hero. He realizes that he just like Victoria because she was attractive but didn’t know her as a person and that his time spent with Yvaine showed him what love actually is. He also goes through a great training montage with Captain Shakespeare and his crew. Charlie Cox is good in the role even if he isn’t great.

Yvaine – At times she needs to be saved, other times she does the saving. Her character is the fish out of water as she was cast out of the kingdom by the King before he died and so many factions are trying to get her it would have been easy to make her a plot device. Thankfully that didn’t happen. She also gets the final kill on Lamia when she goes Nova at the end as she and Tristan are sharing their love. Claire Danes was good.

Captain Shakespeare – This is one of the best roles I’ve seen Robert De Niro in. He plays a gay Sky Pirate and is fantastic! His character is written with respect as he shows the life he can’t show his crew to Tristan and Yvainne when he trains them how to capture lightning and to be self sufficient. He gives them cover stories and idealizes England as he’s heard stories about it. At one point he is revealed when he is cross dressing and Prince Septimus attacks, but it doesn’t matter as his crew always cared about him for who he is of which his sexuality is part of. He is my favorite character in the film and I’d watch or read a story just about his adventures.

The Message – Love – The message of love is great in that it is learning to love others and be open, honest and risk for those you care about…and to see beyond appearances. As Victoria was all about appearances and not connection, and Captain Shakespeare learned the appearance he put on didn’t matter as his crew loved him anyway for the man he was. It also expressed love knows no gender or sex and is greater than that. It’s caring for others and yourself and being a part of something greater.

The Cons: The Ghost Peanut Gallery – Every time a prince dies or someone who could become king they appear how they died and do commentary on the events going on. This got really annoying really fast and took away the drama that should have occurred when one of them died.

The Random Princes – There are a few princes who die or royalty who die who aren’t worth mentioning. They were there for comedic relief and failed at that, which hurt the drama of the chase for the crown and the drama with the witches.

The Side Characters – From the other two witches, to Lamia’s slaves and countless others…they don’t feel all that deep or interesting. They are pretty much background which would have served the story better if they were.

“Stardust” is a great movie and one I’d highly recommend. My hope is that future book adaptions of Gaiman’s work can be just as good if not better since the worlds he creates inspire the writing in my own. This movie had a great cast, great directing, music and cinematography and is well worth watching if you are a fan of fantasy.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.