The original Kingsman movie combined a slightly grungy urban reality with the fanciful world of international espionage. It was in essence a kind of Great Expectations yarn of a man with limited prospect elevating himself beyond his immediate surround, aided by a generous benefactor. It was that age-old tale with the addition of as much overblown violence and sexiness as we’ve come to expect from a Matthew Vaughn film. Except more so, because this was the spy film that put the fun back in the genre. It was Roger Moore with a budget and modern effects. Yet unlike Moore, it was grounded in some kind of reality; at no point, for example, did Eggsy dumbfound his adversaries by dressing up as a French mime artist – as Roger did in his very worst excess. No, it was good Moore.
I was looking forward to Kingsman 2 then. I lapped up the hype. Matthew Vaughn was yet to direct a bad movie. He stated publicly that if you liked the first film, you’d love this one, and inversely that if you didn’t like the first film then you’d really hate this. I liked the first film. In fact, I really liked the first film. The first film was by no mean perfect, however, it received criticism at the time for its moments of crass sexism; the crassness reaching a particular height in the movies closing sequence with a ramped up Bond-esque sex scene. It had also hamstrung the prospects of a sequel slightly by butchering a central character at the close of the second act. This was a bold move at the time and raised the stakes substantially as the film moved towards its flamboyantly ridiculous conclusion. Yet while it was ridiculous, it had earned its fantastical elements with its earlier touches of grizzled reality.
The difficulty with a sequel is understanding what made the first film a success. Clearly, Mr Vaughn’s take away from the first film had been that it was a fun modern take on Moore era Bond, any of the hard won sense of verisimilitude the first film had created was promptly frittered away in the first five minutes. Kingsman 2 opens with a car chase of that carries all the weight of a lunar landing. The camera spins about the car in heavily CGI led pantomime movements, while an ironically off kilter pop song blares out on the radio – as is the action trope of our time.
The Kingsman organisation promptly becomes compromised and its agents killed. The tailors left a smouldering ruin. Eggsy distraught at this loss and accompanied by the organisation’s only other survivor, Merlin – the Kingsman universe’s answer to Q, travel to the US in search of their sister organisation Statesman. They are promptly beaten and captured by the Statesmen – revelations ensue.
The villain, as it turns out, is a large-scale supplier of illegal drugs to the world market. She wants to make these drugs legal, so that she can give up her life of crime and go legitimate. Her solution is to poison her drug supply and withhold the antidote until world leaders succumb to her demands and legalise. At least, I assume it is all world leaders, the only one we are made aware of is the US president, though many of those affected appear to be UK based. It is, needless to say, the worst plan that could possibly be conceived in order to achieve that aim. Presumably few of the drug users would continue using the product once they had been poisoned by it; the bill legalising drugs could be swiftly repealed as soon as the antidote was released; in the process executing the plan the villain reveals her secret identity to the world, guilty then of blackmailing the world if not selling illegal drugs; and so it goes on.
The Statesmen prove to be dramatically better than the Kingsmen. It is such an obvious attempt by Matthew Vaughn to prostitute himself out to the US audience, that it is with some relief that I note his attempts to ingratiate himself with a larger American market have been unsuccessful. Mr Vaughn’s early film success was as a producer, this goes some way to explaining why the script is so commercially centred. In a strange and utterly unnecessary Freudian reveal, the motivations of one villain are stated as hoping to profit from the rise in shares in Statesman whisky. Given how heavily and shamelessly Statesman whisky is promoted throughout the film, it is clear that Mr Vaughn is set to make quite the profit from the company too. No doubt Mr Vaughn could point to the Bond franchise and note how central product placement has been throughout its history, but bizarrely Kingsman 2 left me feeling impressed by the integrity of the Bond franchise. Bond has consistently remained true to its calling as British centric spy thriller, it has remained true to its core values throughout. Though I don’t subscribe to the GQ Magazine interpretation of the Bond alpha Brit, it has at least taken its core values and maintained them throughout. By Contrast, Kingsman 2 took itself in an odd Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them direction, while managing to prostitute itself at every turn. The original British cast of Kingsman were left looking a sorry emasculated bunch in oddly anachronistic clothing, while the Statesmen outperformed them at every level.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle hasn’t just jumped the shark, it’s sliced the shark up into inedible packaged chunks and tried to flog them off to a broadly ungrateful world. I’m a fan of Matthew Vaughn, but this was disappointing. I could go on, I could write about the bizarre amorality of the Kingsmen as they force people into meat grinders and create unnecessary means of introducing tracking devices to women’s privates, but I won’t. Kingsman 2 spent far too much time explaining away the missteps from the previous film, in deeply unsatisfactory ways, and the rest of the time undoing everything that was enjoyable about the Kingsmen. Matthew Vaughn always brings some worthwhile ideas and visuals to a film, but on this occasion the success of the first film and a greedy desire to build a money spinning franchise seem to have compromised everything. All this said, Elton John is very funny.