We’re living in the golden era of the franchise—and the jury’s still out if that’s a good thing or not. We have the MCU, the DCEU, Universal’s sad Dark Universe, Star Wars, the Furious franchise, and I’m sure I’m forgetting at least 75 more. With so many action-packed cinematic series vying for our attentions, it’s easy to let some fall by the wayside—but with Kingsman: The Golden Circle hitting theaters this weekend, there’s a dark horse contender in the franchise races. Well, as long as it learns from one major mistake plaguing its first two chapters.
Cribbed heavily from James Bond, 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service opens up as a familiar origin story with a boy, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), losing his secret agent father only to end up in the same recruitment process years later under the watch of Harry “Galahad” Hart (Colin Firth). The film is more about Eggsy’s come up—tempering his anger about his bad childhood, learning to be a leader, and eventually embodying the values he’s being taught as he works his way through the Kingsman training program.
And yeah, this type of action franchise could easily drift into dark, gritty, man-constantly-complains-about-life territory but what sets the Kingsman films apart is that they don’t. The screenwriters touch everything with a tongue-in-cheek, self aware crook of the middle finger, punctuated with a boyish giggle afterwards. And if Kingsman: The Secret Service was the origin story of our hero, then Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the time for him to have fun.
At this point, Eggsy is well established within Kingsman, even going so far as taking on his beloved mentor Harry’s (who was killed at the end of the first film) codename of Galahad. He’s living with Princess Tilde and everything’s peachy until, you know, all of the Kingsman members are taken out except for him and Merlin (Mark Strong). This of course results in them partnering up with the Statesmen (the U.S.’s Kingsman equivalent) to figure out exactly who’s behind the mass assassination plot. During their trip across the pond to the heart of Kentucky, Eggsy and Merlin come across an amnesia-stricken Harry (of course he wasn’t dead!). Basically, Golden Circle doubles down on everything great about the first Kingsman—fabulous style, insane action, and some of the best villains out.
Aesthetically the Kingsman films look incredible—they are shiny and sleek, basically the film equivalent of a sports car. Honestly, they might also be the best thing to happen to men’s fashion in years with Egerton in a series of impeccably fitted suits (the orange velvet one is a standout), fab 70s skiwear, and those incredible thick dark rimmed glasses. And the Statesman have their own influences as well—imagine peak John Wayne garb, including denim jackets with shearling, sturdy work boots, and those wire rimmed glasses that (sadly) Brooklyn dudes love right now. Of course the aesthetics aren’t just in the dress, but all over the action scenes of the film.
Much like the clean lines of their clothes, the action scenes of Kingsman are equally effortless, with an incredible amount of gore. The last film’s standout was an insane scene where Hart massacres an entire church singlehandedly, in seemingly one take, while Samuel L. Jackson’s villain looks on. While Golden Circle doesn’t quite have anything that completely rivals that level of insanity, Eggsy certainly has his action growing pains when fighting a former Kingsman trainee (complete with bionic arm) in a speeding taxi, a treacherous near avalanche situation with Statesman agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and a reunion of sorts with Harry against robot dogs where they stylishly shoot at them with guns embedded in Louis Vuitton luggage and their Kingsman-issued umbrellas.
What helps to influence much of the action in the Kingsman films, is that they have terrifically ridiculous villains. In the last film, Samuel L. Jackson held that honor as Richmond Valentine—a tech billionaire who seems modeled off a twisted version of Russell Simmons. Valentine’s bloodthirst primarily lies in essentially ridding the human race of what seems undesirable to him—so he embeds microchips into the skulls of a select few rich and influential friends so they won’t then be affected by the mass slaughter he has planned via killer SIM cards. And while there’s the possibility of a real-life Valentine existing nowadays, there’s still a hamminess to Jackson’s performance that makes him so damn fun to watch against Galahad and Eggsy. And it doesn’t hurt that his henchwoman (played by the smokin’ hot Sofia Boutella) has knives for legs either.
In The Golden Circle the same goes for Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the head of a pharmaceutical company whose prim exterior hides something much, much more insidious. Much like Valentine, her choices are completely self serving as she’s planted a lethal toxin in illegal drugs that will eventually kill the user unless she releases the antidote. Poppy will gladly cure her victims as long as the President signs an order that would make her drug empire a legit business. Poppy’s ridiculous much like Valentine, which works in these films—she has her own lair dubbed Poppy Land, a high tech, 50s-inspired mall playground hidden deep in the Cambodian jungle. But unlike Jackson, there’s something really chilling about Poppy—maybe it’s her candy coated exterior—but when she points to those to do her dirty work, she appears to be even more brutal than Valentine (which is seen in her choice of hostage—a celebrity cameo of the year!). And of course, Moore knocks it out of the park.
But having such a compelling villain in Poppy makes the drawbacks of the film loom a little larger. In the last film, there were few, if any really developed female characters, and the end scene with Princess Tilde’s anal sex promise to Eggsy if he saves the world left the film on a sour, if not awkward, note. Tilde’s back and she’s FINE—it’s established that she and Eggsy care about one another and that she can chill with his mates, but to be the leading woman in the franchise, we need more than just a supportive girlfriend. Tilde should feel like a person and she never quite does. And the same goes for the other women in the film aside from Moore—they are either killed off, clearly waiting to be given something cooler to do hopefully in the third film, or solely used for the Sex Joke of the film, which frankly is a bit of a bummer.
With Golden Circle, the Kingsman films have established themselves to be a solid contender in the franchise wars—the cool, sexy, Bond-esque antidote to the overly CGI’d, superhero cluttered ones that have well established themselves already. Right now, the Kingsman is still towards the middle of the pack, but if they just figured out exactly what they were doing with their women, they really could push forward in the race instead of taking up the rear.