We hold some truths self evident; if you’ve got a mini-gun and it isn’t the first thing you use to solve your problem, you shouldn’t have brought it. This struck me in the first few minutes of The Golden Circle, when the baddie’s henchmen butt into a fist fight with three mini-guns. Nothing’s made much sense up to then - and nothing’s going to make much sense afterwards either - but that felt joltingly dumb. Just when the movie was trying to overwhelm me with sensation, it was jolting me out of the moment.
Kingsman was a vaguely enjoyable mess with all sorts of good performances thrown almost randomly into a script which couldn’t decide if it was satirising the class system or glorifying it. I remember saying that Colin Firth was great and that I’d been hoping that the entire Kingsman organisation would be wiped out to make room for social workers.
On that front I have great news. The Kingsman organisation is wiped out to the last man, pretty much, and at no extra charge, Colin Firth is back from the dead. On the one hand, Colin Firth was the single best thing in the first movie even though he wasn’t even trying and had exactly one tone the whole way through. On the other hand, he’s still the single best thing in the second movie, but this time he’s actually got something worth his time. There’s a whole, legitimately good, movie they could have made about Colin Firth’s character coming back from the dead, and Colin gives us a pretty good taster for it. I have to say that it would be scientific bullshit, because amnesia after head trauma doesn’t work the way movies would like it to, but with Firth selling the bullshit, it would have been something to see. As it is, we get a few minutes of real pathos as we see him knocked back to the happier person he could have been if he’d never joined the Kingsmen, and it starts to sink in that the only way forward for the plot is for this gentle, slightly bewildered person to be swept aside. As if that weren’t enough, he’s hallucinating butterflies all the time, and it’s genuinely beautiful and immersive in a way that most of the stunts just aren’t.
So, lots of good Firth in there, and a nagging sense that if they’d bothered, they could have made a good movie. Then you look at the rest of the cast; five Oscar winners in total, and poor old Taron Egerton gamely hanging on in there trying to be a real boy while everyone else coasts. Halle Berry is there and I swear she worked harder when she was playing Catwoman. Channing Tatum shows up for just long enough to register and then gets put in a fridge before he gets in a single action scene. Michael Gambon is there, and on and on it goes. There’s a lot of great actors on screen and yet Elton John, of all people, is given more to do than most of the big names.
And man, the tone is all over the place. On the one hand, Eggsy’s actually making a go of a relationship with the Swedish princess who looked like random Bond-babery at the end of the first movie. On the other hand, I stopped counting how many different callbacks they had for the anal sex joke from the first movie (including Elton’s cheery offer to give Colin Firth “a back-stage pass” if he saves the world). It was like they had Liam Neeson’s cop from The Lego Movie writing the script and they just kept everything from both sides of the head. Half the time they’re being sweet and decent and the other half they’re being horrible, and none of it makes any logical sense.
Which leads me, as though by magic, to the plot. Which is stupider than the plot in the first movie; briefly, so that it doesn’t hurt too much, Julianne Moore’s Poppy the drug smuggler has somehow taken over the whole world’s illegal drug supply, and has contaminated it with a completely ridiculous lethal virus so that she can hold the world to ransom. She’ll hand over the antidote if the US President makes drugs legal. The President, bless him, thinks this is the best deal ever; all he has to do is play along until every drug user in the world is dead from the virus and hey presto, the war on drugs is over. Yes, the US President is horrible. I don’t know where anyone could have come up with an idea like that.
So many logistical problems. The US is somehow able to quarantine all the infected in football stadiums full of individual cages stacked hundreds of feet in the air. Where were they keeping all these cages up until then? How has society not completely collapsed with that many people dying on their feet out of nowhere? How is TV even working if all the drug addicts are dying in cages?
And then there’s Poppy’s business, which she’s running out of a hideous cross between American Graffiti and Apocalypse Now, except with robots. It’s never clear how Poppy has all these robots or how she can get deliveries that far into the jungle, but long before you start worrying about that, there’s the fun of wondering how she keeps her help and isn’t in jail. The first henchman we meet gets stuck in a meat mincer - by the second henchman we meet - after about four minutes. Bonus, it’s a meat mincer which can somehow separate all his clothes along the way so that the meat which comes out - and gets turned into a burger that henchman two is forced to eat - doesn’t have strings of blue fabric running all the way through it. This is the kind of thing which really gets in the way of employee retention. Then there’s the employee makeover plan, where everyone gets their fingerprints lasered off and their teeth ground smooth to make them harder to identify before being given a solid gold tattoo which makes it trivial to identify them as member of the Golden Circle. Poppy’s notions on management would see her in a meat mincer some time during the second week, and not head first either.
Then there’s the virus, with its improbably instant cure being flown in by drones at the drop of a hat, leaving me wondering how the drones would know where the infected were. Just too many problems.
Amazingly, the version is theatres is eighty minutes shorter than the initial cut, which boggles my mind. Is it eighty extra minutes of Colin Firth being noble and Eggsy being thick but sweet, or is it eighty minutes of queasy sex jokes and nihilism? Or forty minutes of each? Or cut scenes which explain away all the logistics problems? With anyone else, you could at least guess, but with this team, who knows?