When director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman have previously teamed up on projects the results have been uniformly excellent.
In 2007’s Stardust, the duo’s first collaboration, the British pair brought a cunning, dark twist on the traditional fairy-tale narrative, using Neil Gaiman’s much loved illustrated novel as a blueprint.
Their follow up, 2010’s R-Rated Kickass, once more offered a fresh take on a familiar genre, this time peppering the superhero origin story with grisly violence and foul mouthed pre-teens – once more Goldman and Vaughn leant heavily on another text: Mark Millar’s comic of the same name. The pair drew inspiration from the comics again to produce the well received X-Men: First Class a year later.
This brings us to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, another adaptation of a little known comic book by Mark Millar which made for another surprise hit at the box office for the, now prolific, couple. This was a film that smartly riffed off familiar spy film tropes whilst keeping the audience guessing with clever plot twists and jaw-dropping action sequences. It would appear that Goldman and Vaughn had once more struck gold, but no part of me felt that this should be the start of a franchise. The tightly told origin story stuck closely to Millar’s comic book and the rapid fire comedy made up for some slight missteps in terms of tone – but, by the end of the journey, it certainly felt like a good point to stop.
But this is 2017 – and the word ‘stop’, in the movie industry has been replaced with the words ‘milk until sucked of all possible charm and fun’.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle sees the (until now) successful writing team veer wildly off-script. Having run out of source material during the first film, both writers were left in a position that would have felt alien to them: having to conceive their own plot instead of adapting one already in existence. In case you’re wondering, the results are not good.
The Golden Circle suffers from a commonly known disease known as ‘sequelitis’ and it’s surprising that neither of these veterans managed to see the glaring flaws in either their screenplay or the final product.
At 141 minutes, it is painfully long. A huge cast of charismatic actors featuring Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore and ahem…Elton John, are criminally underused. Where once the dialogue was fresh and witty – it now feels stale and remarkably retrograde. Even the action sequences, usually a highlight in Vaughn’s films, feel rote, rubbery and safe. In fact there’s nothing remotely dangerous in this film, aside from its worrying treatment of its female players.
The first film surprised us with the unceremonious execution of one of the film’s key characters, it served to be a key plot moment in the movie and a reason for it’s success: this film effectively retcons that moment and nullifies any possible peril that any of the characters might be put in. Much has been written about a particularly misjudged scene involving a tracker being ‘inserted’ into an unknowing female character (of which there are four of, all of whom exist to either be forcibly administered narcotics, spout nonsensical context or simply obliterated) – needless to say, it’s not the worst thing about this film.