Matthew Vaughn’s ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ is a test of empathy

Sequels are a tough act to make. Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” tried its best to create a follow-up movie that would remain as original and engaging as the first.

The “Kingsman: The Secret Service” introduced a different breed of spies, gentlemen in their signature tailor-fit suits who work for an independent international intelligence agency which, in discretion, keeps the world safe. 

It was in 2014 when director Vaughn first released an inventive and trope-challenging movie. Now its sequel still has the old-school spy thrills that were met with some rogue cowboy Americana. 

The movie begins with an acrobatic, gravity-defying fight scene in a moving vehicle, introducing Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) as the new Agent Galahad. He may no longer be the Kingsmen’s new recruit, but he still wasn’t as polished as Harry Hart (Colin Firth).

It wasn’t long til Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) had to implement the “Doomsday Protocol” after their Savile Row headquarters and every Kingsman agent was targeted in a wipe-out by unknown mafia The Golden Circle.

The surviving pair had to fly to a Kentucky distillery, where they meet the Kingsmen’s American equivalent—the Statesmen. With its new list of players, the movie struggled with juggling storylines for each of the characters in its cast, finding a way for an inside joke to make it on the script.

Statesmen leader Agent Champagne (Jeff Bridges) lent the British duo resources to avenge their fallen super-spy organization. Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) worked behind the scenes as another tech genius, while Pedro Pascal played an all too familiar character in Agent Whiskey—an authoritative bad-ass who hated drugs.

Channing Tatum as Agent Tequila had some scenes of antics that were overshadowed by the fabulous Elton John who had a hilarious extended cameo that was very welcome in the movie.

While Vaughn introduced the exciting idea of other secret agent services, “The Golden Circle” felt more of like a set-piece rather than a story on its own. The movie was too preoccupied with establishing a new network of independent spy organizations, making it easier for the franchise to expand to succeeding films.

Like the movie before it, “Kingsman” heavily relied on its villain to set the tone. In the sequel, evil takes shape in Poppy (Julianne Moore) who is exiled in some unknown Cambodian ruins where she operated the biggest drug cartel in the world.

There’s a duality in this antagonist who led The Golden Circle. Poppy was as hungry for fame as she was for death and disaster. Her exterior was a sweet and charming lady dressed in an all-American wardrobe, who never goes around without a smile with red lipstick. While obviously a psychopath, her calm demeanor did not make her less sinister, but she doesn’t quite inch up to Samuel Jackson’s Richmond Valentine.

She believes recreational drugs should be made legal and taxed, turning her empire into a legitimate global business. She is so certain of her hullabaloos that it’s almost too convincing. The villain’s arc definitely dictated the flow of the story, but it was built on a shaky foundation to begin with.

Vaughn took the risk to challenge his audience’s empathy with the sociopolitical issue it chose to deal with. The gravity of the movie’s conflict on its viewers depended heavily on how they determined the state of drugs.

That, on its own, was already a criticism to society. With the prevailing mentality of treating drug users less than humans—making them seem less worthy of saving—Poppy’s diabolical plan was a great divider that required a lot of compassion for the global audience to actually feel attacked and threatened while watching the film.

As “Kingsman” set its eyes on the war on drugs and genocide, never has a Hollywood spy movie hit so close to home. With dialogues that seem to be taken straight from Philippine newspapers, the spy film is frustratingly comedic, especially for a Filipino audience. It’s so accurate some of its characters were probably based on our hopeless local politicians.

For an hour and a half, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” will dominate the theater with cheers and whopping laughs. But once you catch your breath, it’s the kind of movie that actually makes you question which side of humanity you are on.

   VINNY VERDICT:  3/5  

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is now showing in cinemas nationwide. 
This blog post is a published newspaper article on Inquirer Super.

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