Film Review: “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Rated: R
Running Time: 141 minutes
20th Century Fox

As if emboldened by an impressive box office receipt and growing fanfare, studio executives clearly handed over a blank check and unrestrained creative control to Matthew Vaughn. For better or for worse, his second time around with the “Kingsman” franchise has him embellishing every little detail to the point of nausea. Like some of James Bond’s sillier outings (“A View to a Kill” and “Die Another Day”), “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is pure insanity as we’re rushed through another absurd outing with Britain’s super-secret intelligence organization.

Within the first five minutes, the movie drips in excess action and CGI, immediately taking viewers out of anything resembling sanity. Eggsy (Egerton), the hoodlum turned hero from the first film, fights a former Kingsman recruit, also from the first film, who has a robotic arm with a mind of its own. That’s not even the craziest thing in this film. After disposing of him, we then go through the set-up motions as we meet Eggsy’s girlfriend, the sexually exploited Princess from the end of the first film, and catch-up with the other holdovers from the first flick. Anyone who hasn’t seen the first will unquestionably be confused and lost from the get-go.

The film squanders very little time getting to the villain of the film, Poppy (Moore). Poppy is the leader of a high-powered drug cartel. She wears a psychotic smirk on her face, forcing her underlings to undergo grotesque tests of allegiance. Her hideaway, Poppy Land, is a nostalgic step back into 1950’s Hill Valley with robotic murder dogs patrolling the compound. Her beef with the Kingsman is unknown other than she needs to eliminate any potential threats to her devious global plan. After missiles strike several targets in England (which is seemingly shrugged off by everyone else outside the plot), the remnants of the Kingsman activate their doomsday protocol and are forced to rely on their United States counterparts, the Statesman.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the biggest name in a film containing Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and Elton John (yes, that Elton John). Very few are used to affect except for Elton John. He arrives as an unnecessarily needed and gratuitous cameo, but evolves into a delightfully needed and gratuitous cameo. However, my disappointment stems from a lack of Bridges, Tatum and Berry, who play different components of the Statesman organization. You could also make the argument for Moore’s character. “The Golden Circle” could have benefitted from as much Moore as possible, just like the previous film benefitted from a lisping Samuel L. Jackson.

The action isn’t entertaining in the traditional sense, but in a fun, manic Saturday morning cartoon kind of way. The laws of gravity, rudimentary physics, the limitations of the human body, and common sense are an afterthought for most the film’s runtime. Just like the first film, there are the over-the-top gadgets that serve one inane purpose. There’s even one gadget that’s too sexually explicit to even attempt to convey in a PG way.

“The Golden Circle” is delightfully bonkers, locking reality out of the writing room and barring believability from the set. The “Kingsman” universe has American citizens being locked up by their own government in cages, bad guys driving down the streets of London with .50 cal machine guns blasting away in full sight of civilians, and oddly placing a retirement home below an avalanche danger zone. To expect anything remotely logical would be a dishonor to the film’s status quo, but adding a little of intelligence certainly wouldn’t hurt it in the long run.

Film Review: “Hell or High Water”

Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges
Directed By: David Mackenzie
Rated: R
Running Time: 102 minutes
CBS Films

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Out of curiosity I researched the phrase, “Come hell or high water” since the movie title clearly borrows from that popular saying. My research yielded the fact that it’s an early 20th century saying that relates to the difficulties of cattle ranching. And here I had always assumed it was more of a Biblical saying or something cool Americans would say when facing adversity. That’s not to say that the originators of the saying weren’t God-fearing ranchers.

Brothers Tanner (Foster) and Toby (Pine) aren’t ranchers and certainly don’t appear to be fearful of any afterlife repercussions of their sins. Although the would-be cowboys are working on their future beer guts and sport rough stubble that could certainly mislead one to believe they’ve had to wrangle livestock. They live in western Texas where there’s clearly a hangover from the 2007 market crash. Residents dotting the drought ridden landscape seem more focused on staying true to the beliefs they grew up on, rather than adapt or evolve.

Toby isn’t old fashioned, but he definitely seems lost on what to do in this brave new world. He’s desperately trying to save the family farm and is looking for a life preserver as he swims in debt. His ex-con brother, Tanner, helps him with the first of many bad ideas, robbing banks. They’re not stupid about it at least. They commit robberies at banks in small towns with smaller police officers nearby, they’re only asking for unmarked bills smaller than $100 so the money can’t be traced, and they’re literally burying their getaway vehicles.

On their trail are, outside of the normal law enforcement, are two Texas Rangers, Marcus (Bridges) and Alberto (Gil Birmingham). Their comradery stems from a passion for what they do and years of working together. Marcus is near retirement and has a shoot from the hip viewpoint of everything, even making racist remarks about Alberto’s racial mix. But Marcus isn’t just some out-of-touch old timer; his racist jokes and jabs come from a deep appreciation and bond with Alberto. Alberto gets that too, making sure to quip back at Marcus. Alberto understands that under Marcus’ rough Texas exterior is an elderly man appreciating the friends he has as he dreads the purposelessness that’ll come with his retirement.

The movie follows these two groups journey and most of the time it’s exciting, funny, and heart felt. But behind the upbeat veil is one of hopelessness and deadly uncertainty. Any story about a two bank robbers, armed to teeth, being chased by the Texas Rangers won’t have a happy ending. For every laugh, our characters seem to wonder and ponder the consequences of their actions and the sins that will haunt us to our death day.

“Hell or High Water” captures the rustic West, the deep-seeded “Don’t Mess with Texas” attitude of its characters and the unflinching misery of living in impoverished small town America. It flips between jovial Western and teeth gritting thriller flawlessly. It’s a smart script with rich meaning that offers its characters realistic dialogue. They’re simple folk delivering simple lines, and anything near Shakespeare writing would feel horrendously out of place. Instead we get plain Midwestern men delivering speeches worthy of a Johnny Cash song.

The dialogue is further bolstered by the cast. We get to see a side of Pine we’ve never seen before, and one we’ll hopefully see more of, as well as a side of Bridges that we’ve come to love. Foster also gets the chance to make up for summer misstep, “Warcraft”, giving one of his best performances as the conflicted Tanner. If the summer movie season is truly over and it’s now time to turn the page to award season, “Hell or High Water” is a wonderful primer and a sign of good things to come.