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From Hilarity to Heartbreak and Back Again: some Thoughts on Seeing “Kingsman: the Golden Circle”

When news broke that “Kingsman: the Secret Service” (2015) would be followed by a sequel, my initial reaction was one of skepticism. I only became a convert after the trailer dropped at this year’s comic Con, and I approached the film much as I approach any film that falls somewhere on the parody spectrum—fully intending to embrace it for what it was without allowing my hyper-critical eye to interfere with my enjoyment. When I finally saw “Kingsman: the Golden Circle” on opening weekend, I didn’t expect my emotions to run the gamut from hysterical laughter to heartbroken in what amounted to 2 hours and 20 minutes of emotional whiplash.

In short, after the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, the agents journey to America and team up with their “American cousins,” the Statesman, and work to bring down a drug cartel known as the Golden Circle.

*****WARNING!***** Some of what follows is shamelessly spoiler-y. I make no further apologies. Read on at your own risk.

Given that the first film left me reeling, I recognize in hindsight that I should have braced myself for the roller-coaster. Even after having weeks to reflect and process, my emotions are still spinning madly in multiple directions, so what follows amounts less to a review than a list-style breakdown of the key takeaways for me.

Happy-Making Things

Eggsy- When I reviewed “Kingsman: the Secret Service,” I observed that Taron Egerton held his own remarkably well amongst the likes of seasoned actors including Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, and Colin Firth. In “The Golden Circle,” Egerton owns the screen. Now adorably awkward, now authoritative, Egerton has matured both as a Kingsman agent and as an actor. Committed to putting his training into practice and living out Harry’s legacy (more on that later), he still maintains a certain tenderness beneath his toughened armor that made us first fall in love with and cheer for Eggsy.

Merlin- Mark Strong brings immense depth to this character. Alternating between tough and tender, he’s clearly shouldered the responsibility of filling (or at least trying to fill) the void that losing Harry has left in Eggsy’s life. Beneath the repeated remonstrances to “remember your training,” Merlin’s respect for Eggsy not as a mentee, but as a fellow agent shows itself markedly when the pair find themselves the only survivors after their headquarters are destroyed and together they must bear the grief of their lost colleagues as they continue the work they’ve set out to do. Not to mention (SPOILER ALERT!) you can’t help but admire a man who can muster the strength to belt out a chorus of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in his final moments as he stands on a landmine.

Harry Hart- Once again, Colin Firth delivers an exquisitely nuanced performance. With seamless precision, he balances tender timidity with—there’s just no other way to put this—ass-kicking authority. The scene in which Eggsy uses the puppy to trigger Harry’s memories demonstrates this balancing act most effectively; in the instant that Harry regains his awareness, we can almost hear a click in Firth’s brain as he activates that switch. Can I just say here that their embrace, with Harry cradling the puppy in one arm, is pure hurt/comfort fanfiction gold? My heart crumbled like a warm brownie straight from the oven.

Admittedly, the idea of resurrecting Hart by injecting fluid into the brain after covering the eyes with something that resembles the plastic wrap in my kitchen cupboard stretches the boundaries of plausibility, but Matthew Vaughn never promised us plausible. On the contrary, from the moment we learned that Harry Hart would be returning from the dead, Vaughn was basically saying “check plausible at the door. Here are your suspension of disbelief glasses. Have fun.”

Poppy- Julianne Moore makes a delightfully devilish villain, and this is quite possibly one of my favorite of her performances. Saccharine sweet and smooth-talking, she utilizes every moment of her screen time to hypnotize her audience. If she can convince one of her henchman to swallow a bite of a meat pattie consisting of one of his own dismembered limbs, the rest of us don’t stand a chance. Go home, villains of the world. Poppy’s got this one covered.

Critical Concerns

Storyline- admittedly, the plot is all over the map. from Eggsy’s relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Ahlstrom), to Harry’s Amnesia, to the war on drugs, we never quite know where to look. Despite this fact, however, the film still works, because what it might lack in plot continuity, it more than makes up for with character dynamics. These characters—and the actors who portray them—have established such clearly authentic bonds of friendship that we want to spend more time with them in whichever wacky direction they choose to take us. Most of those adventures predictably involve some heavily alcohol-lubricated, testosterone-charged male bonding, but when you give me Colin Firth cuddling a puppy, my iron feminist resolve will immediately crack. I’m sorry, but you can’t read the words Colin Firth and puppy in the same sentence and not feel, just for a moment, that nothing bad will ever happen to the planet ever again. Don’t judge. On that note, though…

Ginger Ale- In an otherwise scathing review, the New York times pointed out, not altogether unfairly, that The Golden Circle is a man’s film, and women have to get behind. Unfortunately, this proves largely true in the case of Halle Berry’s brilliantly-played Ginger Ale. Intelligent and capable, she can clearly hold her own amongst the male agents and can handle far more than tech support, yet she constantly gets passed over for field work when Agent Whiskey (excellently portrayed by Pedro Pascal) votes her down. In fairness, however, “The golden Circle” manages a challenging balancing act in a film that’s part-parody, part-tribute to the spy genre—a genre that has a notorious reputation for being less than kind to female characters. Of course, Ginger Ale does get her moment of glory in the end, and while I’d have liked to see her character developed further, her promotion gestures toward that potential development since whispers have already begun circulating about rounding the franchise out into a trilogy.

“The Golden Circle” also boasts performances from Jeff Bridges (Champ), Channing Tatum (Tequila), and a hilariously outlandish appearance by the one and only Elton John. If audiences continue to respond well to the film, the likelihood of that third sequel materializing will increase. It finished first in the box-office on opening weekend, grossing $39 million in the U.S and $100 million worldwide, and its earnings have since nearly doubled its $104 million production budget. Despite mixed critical reviews, fans have clearly not been disappointed, and I for one am already on board with Eggsy, Harry, and the rest of the gang in whatever adventures await them.