There Will Be Criticism: 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'
By Simon Tessmer
Editor's Note: There Will Be Criticism is a weekly column by Simon Tessmer, a film student at MSU. Tessmer's other reviews can be read on his blog. Tessmer's criticism will be published on Fridays. Check out his last weekly column on "mother!" here.
Despite some arguments that hope to see Kingsman: The Golden Circle director Matthew Vaughn as a deceptively genius satirist, his latest work is merely a well-made action flick that wants to push some buttons and have broad appeal.
In the arena of button pushing, Vaughn deploys gender politics nostalgic for the “good old days” of 1960s Hollywood misogyny, while in turn lifting imagery important to the cultural moment that appeases selective demographic groups across the political spectrum. The result is a bizarre, hyper-political yet strangely neutral work that has little to say but panderingly seeks approval from as many audiences as possible.
The Golden Circle, the latest adaptation of the Kingsman comic book series created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, stars Taron Egerton as Eggsy Unwin, a.k.a. Galahad, an agent of the British spy organization Kingsman. After a former agent in training (Edward Holcroft) returns to cause mayhem, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to team up with the Statesman, Kingsman’s American equivalent, led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges). With the additional support of Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), Tequila (Channing Tatum), and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), the Kingsman uncover and battle a global plot orchestrated by the drug cartel The Golden Circle, led by Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore).
Like its preceding film, Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn, 2014), The Golden Circle fully satisfies as a piece of genre cinema. Its ornately orchestrated action sequences are beautiful and jaw-dropping, as it accelerates the formal photographic strategy popularized by Jackie Chan, resulting in long takes that emphasize the impact of each kick and punch.
As a piece of deeply gendered cinema Circle at times seems vaguely interested in progression, but largely undermines and in some ways openly ridicules the idea of dismantling Hollywood’s patriarchal penchant. Easily visible with the killing/torturing of women to further the film’s plot, Circle’s gender politics see amplification in the characterization of Poppy Adams, a ruthlessly deranged female villain packaged literally as an artifact of the 1950s, relegated to doing her dirty work while sporting an apron and confined to her version of the domestic sphere.
Perhaps interpretable as commentary on female representation in film, this notion sees quick burial in a sequence where Eggsy and Tequila compete to seduce Clara von Gluckfberg (Poppy Delevigne) for the purposes of embedding a tracking device inside her vagina. This deeply cringey moment reads less “so ridiculous it must be satiric commentary” and more “so ridiculous because it’s funny to watch men use women.”
Circle continues its unsettling ideological half-step shuffle with a broader set of political iconographies, jumping back and forth between endorsements of Fox News and depicting a distressingly white version of mass incarceration for drug-related charges to lampooning a far-right president and prominently featuring Elton John as fun comedic relief/token queerness.
Circle avoids concrete statements not because of a deceptive cleverness, but because its true ideology is profit. It wants money from as many regions of the country as possible, so it vacuums up imagery and ideas from disparate political sides and mashes them together in an unholy mess that hopes to the be the movie “everyone agrees on.”
To this end, I can’t ascribe it a favorable rating, regardless of how giddy its lovely action scenes made me.