Kingsman: The Golden Circle Maketh Many Mistakes

Kingsman: The Golden Circle feels like it should come out in a couple of years. Maybe it’s the third movie in a Kingsman trilogy or the Avengers-style movie that ties all of the other Kingsman properties together. It just shouldn’t be the franchise’s second outing and that is the big issue that almost all of Kingsman: The Golden Circle’s other issues stem from.

Overall, I enjoyed it. The action was still top notch, although I have an endless tolerance for Matthew Vaughn’s “jerky cam” fight choreography. There were some genuinely nice character moments between Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and his seemingly resurrected mentor, Harry (Colin Firth). The film was funny although probably not quite as funny as the first. And the Kingsman’s American counterparts were all pretty great, my favorite being Pedro Pascal’s Agent Whiskey.

It’s just that Kingsman: The Golden Circle should have been better.

Maybe not better than the first. That would be a tall order since Kingsman: The Secret Service was a surprise hit that managed to hammer virtually every right note. But The Golden Circle should have been better than what we got. It was short on Kingsman essentials like heart, charm, and style and high on things that Kingsman doesn’t need concern itself with like continuity, sub-plots, and fan-service.

Here’s the basic story. A Martha Stuart-esque drug kingpin named Poppy (Julianne Moore) decides that she wants to be recognized as a successful businesswoman and the only way to get that recognition is to legalize her product, putting her on the same level as the rest of the CEO’s of the world. So, Poppy undertakes a plan that involves ransoming all of the world’s drug users for full legalization (and I can’t quite explain this one out yet but go with me on it) and since Poppy employs a henchman who is aware that the Kingsman exist, she decides to eliminate the entire organization leaving a skeleton crew of heroes to stop her scheme. This forces the remaining Kingsman to team up with The Statesman, a group of American, cowboy, super-spies masquerading as the owners of a whiskey distillery.

So let’s start with the positive. I LOVED three action scenes. Loved them. Like “God damn how does Matthew Vaughn continue to make action this stylized and fun” loved them. They are wonderfully paced, showing up in the beginning, middle, and end of the film. Every one makes use of something the franchise hasn’t touched yet. I guarantee you will leave the theater whistling the song from the finale.

Talon Egerton is outstanding. Since Secret Service, I have kept and eye on this kid. Eddie the Eagle. Sing. He is a star. I am SHOCKED neither of the big superhero studios have given the franchise tag yet. I know there were rumors that he would show up as a certain Robin, but they never materialized. DC, get him now. He is charming and funny and he knows how to act and Marvel is likely to throw him into the Guardians of the Galaxy as Rick Rider if you aren’t careful.

And the world of the Kingsman is a fun one to live in. You have the fancy clothes and the silly gadgets. Characters make fifty insanely unrealistic shots in a row while flipping. Like the original Kingsman, it is nice to live in a world that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

But that brings up the first reason I think The Golden Circle would function much better as the third leg of a trilogy: we never actually get to spend any time with The Kingsman. The clandestine gentleman superspy agency that was established in the first film is immediately wiped out in the second. Why bother have them at all? There are more members than Eggsy, Harry, Merlyn, and Roxy, right? Why don’t we get to enjoy the world of the Kingsman before immediately tossing them aside and moving onto the Statesman?

Part of the fun of The Kingsman organization is that it has been around long before Eggsy, and we the audience, discovered it. There are at least ten or eleven other Kingsman and an infrastructure that must require many more members to operate. We could have spent this whole movie just exploring the larger Kingsman inner workings. How is the organization supposed to function after their leader is unmasked as a traitor? Do they think Eggsy is a worthy replacement for Harry? If Harry is your Roger Moore James Bond, is there a Daniel Craig or a Pierce Brosnan in the ranks? All of these questions would have been worth exploring more than The Stateman.

And The Golden Circle does allude to there being more Kingsman adventures that we the audience have missed. Eggsy and Roxy talk about all the times she’s gotten him out of trouble and I was sitting there wondering what those adventures were like. Were they fun?  Who did you save the world from? Did we all learn something about ourselves along the way? Eggsy has a wall, like Harry did in the original, covered with mundane newspaper headlines from the days where Eggsy secretly saved the world. The Golden Circle is “yadda yadda yaddaing” over the parts of the story that I am most interested in hearing.

And when the movie does make the effort to bring us up to speed, their answers are confusing. Eggsy still lives in his old place and hangs out with his old friends. He is still dating the Swedish Princess from the very end of the last film and they have trouble reconciling Eggsy’s double life, specifically the more Brosnany aspects of gentleman spying.

Eggsy is a spy, right? That’s not a 9 to 5 job. He’s a spy. Spies hang out with other spies between missions and that’s about it. Eggsy’s secret identity and girlfriend problems aren’t spy problems. They’re superhero problems. The Kingsman movies have developed a fundamental misunderstanding of what spies are. Early in The Golden Circle, there is a dinner scene that reads like a scene from a Spiderman movie. Kingsman used to have a mastery over the genre that it has largely forgotten about.

Also, no one mentions the end of the last movie a.k.a. everyone with a cell phone attempted to murder everyone else with a cell phone. I’m not saying that’s a good or bad thing. It is, however, hypocritical for the film to lean so heavily on continuity and worldbuilding while glossing over the biggest question of the series.

Let’s talk about subplots.

For a movie that isn’t really going for any one thing, The Golden Circle has a TON of subplots. Eggsy gets some subplots. Merlyn gets a subplot. Whiskey gets a subplot. Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) gets a subplot. The enforcer villain gets a subplot. Worst of all, Harry is a subplot.

Besides just being silly, Harry’s presence also severely cheapens the original film. His death was one of the most impactful movie deaths in recent memory. Harry was the glue holding Eggsy’s world together and his death forced our hero to realize his true potential. Storytelling 101.

Not only does keeping Harry alive stunt Eggy’s character development, it slows the film down tremendously. I want to see the edit of The Golden Circle where Harry shows up right before the beginning of the third act FOR NO REASON. Edit everything Harry does out of the first and second act. We don’t need to see him regain his memory or throw things poorly. Skip to the good stuff. This development would be fine in a shorter movie, but it doesn’t add to this already quite long outing.

Finally, there is WAAAYYYYY too much fanservice in The Golden Circle. I don’t believe there is any problem with fanservice, generally. When Luke Cage says the tiara looks stupid or Rhodey tells the Mark II suit “next time”, I always giggle. Unless a Stan Lee cameo is terrible (looking at you, X-Men Apocalyspe) I will enjoy it every time.

And sometimes The Golden Circle gets fan service spot on. They recreate the bar fight from the original Kingsman and it works brilliantly. I feel rewarded for being a fan and recognizing the similarities, while casual viewers around me just enjoy the scene. It’s a win win.

But wow. The Golden Circle doesn’t know when enough is enough. And I really really really don’t want to spoil it, so suffice it to say that you will feel it. The fan service will hit you like a wrecking ball. Cringe doesn’t do it justice. I am seeing The Golden Circle again this weekend and I feel compelled to warn my fellow theatergoers of an an extended cameo that will make you so uncomfortable that you will be completely within your rights to stand up and throw a tomato at the screen.

It feels like I missed a movie. It could be anything. A Kingsman sequel that focuses on the original team. A Statesman side-quel. I don’t know exactly what, but The Golden Circle doesn’t fit as number two and the franchise suffers because of it.

And despite everything I just said, I want more. Give me more of this universe. Learn from your mistakes. Start movie three with an established team and send them into space. Figure out a compelling reason to bring everyone back. Keep the Statesmen in the mix. They’re a blast and the scene where Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) first meets Eggsy and Merlyn is enough to make me want to see an entire Statesmen origin movie. Pair Eggsy up with the new recruit. You can go a million different ways with it.

Just keep calm and carry on. The fate of the Kingsman world hangs in the balance.

Matthew Nando Kelly is the cool and tough Managing Editor of Pop Break who was allowed to write his own bio. Besides weekly Flash recaps, he has a podcast called Mad Bracket Status where he makes pop culture brackets with fellow writer DJ Chapman.