During the frantic climax of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” Taron Egerton’s Eggsy and Colin Firth’s Harry Hart are infiltrating the jungle base of Julianne Moore’s villainess Poppy. They’re the perfect team up. Hart (Firth) representing the effortless class of Roger Moore’s British super spy. Eggsy (Edgerton) is the rough and tumble, parkour performing blunt instrument; you imagine him bursting through dry wall like Daniel Craig’s Bond in “Casino Royale.” It’s a merger of old school and new school; a ‘Batman and Robin’ moment that used to be reserved for the darkest corners of online Bond fan-fiction. In the swing dance of the director Matthew Vaughn’s camera you realise that Harry and Eggsy fighting is precisely why we’re back in Kingsman couture.
The world’s largest drug cartel The Golden Circle, led by 50s pop culture obsessed Poppy (Moore), hatches a plan to infect the world’s recreational drugs with a virus. To ensure success they destroy the entire Kingsman operation. Surviving agents Galahad/Eggsy (Edgerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) initiate their doomsday protocol and team up with their secret American counterparts, the Statesman, to take them down. Oh yes and there’s also the matter of explaining the resurrection of Harry Hart.
Eggsy’s back, and despite his ascension to the fully fledged Kingsman, he’s still the same gruff talking project kid when he disrobes from their characteristic couture. Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman have answered criticisms of the film’s crass use of anal currency to save the world by having Eggsy link up with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Evidently, anal on the first date means that’s a keeper. Even in the wake of an attack from a former Kingsman recruit with a bionic arm that results in the death of a driver isn’t enough to stop him from ensuring that he’s able to live out his ‘double’ life. He’s even willing to swim through a river of sewage to ensure that he’s able to attend the modest birthday celebrations of his former friends.
Edgerton continues to play Eggsy as the pig wrapped in silk. He’s still got a lot to learn and relies heavily on his ‘in-ear’ support from either Merlin (Strong) or Roxy/Lancelot (Sophie Cookson). Edgerton was at his best as the Eggsy character when he was able to be impulsive and the audience aren’t having the outcome telegraphed. There’s a hesitation as Eggsy has to come to terms with doing things that he must do as a Kingsman, which his cockney talking alter ego would prefer not to do.
Mark Strong’s Merlin continues to be great in the sequel and the highlight by far is a mid-conflict rendition of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads.’ The two most dynamic new roles in the film are Bruce Greenwood’s very “Trump-ish” President of the U.S.A and Elton John playing himself. Greenwood famously played J.F.K in the magnificent “13 Days” about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Watching the man who once played America’s most iconic President and now the current deplorable head of state became a fascinating distraction in the middle of the film. Elton is an imprisoned celebrity being forced to perform for Poppy on command. He’s a cantankerous and hilarious version of himself and enlivens proceeds in every moment possible. New comers Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges get extended cameos at best.
It’s a welcome change to see Matthew Vaughn coming back for a second helping on a franchise that he’s launched. “Kick Ass 2” was atrocious, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was a return to form for Bryan Singer but lacked the magic of “First Class.” Vaughn developed a fast paced, balletic camera. It’s a kind of action whiplash from your seat that’s right on the edge of discombobulation. Vaughn and co collaborator Jane Goldman spend the early segments of“The Golden Circle” undoing the mythology that they’d spent its predecessor pulling together. The sequel misses the swagger and self-aware bombast imbued in the characters in the first film. Eggsy feels like he wants to continue with the training wheels. Harry has regressed after his slight case of being shot to the face. Scratching the surface in characters in “The Golden Circle” reveals more surface.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” has a lot of the same ingredients that made the first outing so satisfying, but there’s something missing at every turn. In the coda of “The Secret Service” we’ve seen Roxy (Sophie Cookson) breaking the mould and filling the empty slot of Lancelot. In this outing she’s quickly dismissed. In “The Secret Service” Harry Hart (Firth), the series Obi Wan Kenobi, has been unceremoniously murdered inspiring Eggsy to take on Valentine head on (and be rewarded with the Princess Tilde’s trench so to speak). For fans of Spy movies there’s a really apt comparison. If the “Secret Service” is Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond “Casino Royale.” “The Golden Circle” though is absolutely “Quantum of Solace,” carried by the proximity and familiarity of elements from the first film.
While it might seem strange to discuss “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “mother!” in the same breath, they in fact share a key thematic similarity. “Kingsman” and “mother!” are chiefly concerned with matters of resurrection and repetition. In opening seconds of “mother!” in a dream like state we see the scorched shell of a home come to life and reveal the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence rousing from sleep. The sequence appears so early and in such a fleeting way that you can’t be exactly sure what you’ve seen. The grey clad, earthy mousey colour languid hair hangs with an untamed symmetry. Her slow emergence from slumber leads her to the study of her partner (Bardem) suffering from second novel syndrome.
Lawrence and her partner, Javier Bardem’s unnamed poet, are living in a blissful isolation in their quiet farmhouse. A stranger (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrive and their short stay begins to evolve into an occupation as their feuding sons and throngs of friends and admirers of the poet descend on the farmhouse.
Darren Aronofsky is an intrepid filmmaker. He lives to confound and contend with his audiences. At this point, if you’ve heard about “mother!” you’ve more than likely heard that the film is allegorical. In fact some of the marketing of the film framed how the studios and the filmmaker wanted it to be received. Paramount Studio advertised it visually as a supernatural home invasion drama with religious undertones echoing Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” “mother!” has the ambition to graft foundational myths in the Judaeo-Christian tradition onto a relatable story of a home invasion and a destructive relationship. The early parts of the film are extremely effective in creating an atmosphere of discomfort and isolation.
The interplay between Michelle Pfeiffer uncomfortably forthright ‘Woman’ and Lawrence is the high-point in the film. There’s such a precise complexity being conjured in every interaction. Every question drips with presumption, looks announce profound intuition and her body dances on the rhythms of implied energy. While the other players are merely one note in Aronofsky’s symphony, conducted from Lawrence’s perspective, Pfeiffer’s searing contribution cuts through the noise.
There’s a line in “mother!” where the film exits the tangible and evolves into something purely allegorical. From that point of the film onward you’re anchored to Lawrence’s harrowing experience. It’s an admirable performance, akin to being hung from a cross beam and being belted like a heavy bag.
“mother!” is fierce studio filmmaking that last appeared when titanic studios were going broke and entrusted a new generation in the New Hollywood era 1968-1980. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is an assault on the senses while “mother!” is a battery of your mind and soul. It’s a film that’s easy to respect and hard to like. When Bardem’s poet unchecked ego sends his baby to be pawed at by rapturous adoring fans and our eponymous “mother!” (Lawrence) is left howling. By the end of the film, Aronofsky has the subtlety of a sledge hammer; perhaps walking out of “mother!” bruised was precisely what he intended.
"Kingsman: The Golden Circle"
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.