In 2015, I left Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service disgusted, offended, and disturbed that such movies actually have an audience. Had I but known what Vaughn was planning for this year’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Just like before, it’s disgusting and offensive; now, it has the added distinction of being so glaringly implausible that it surpasses escapism and reaches astounding heights of stupidity. Anyone who sees this film and actually likes it most likely doesn’t have the ability to discern good movies from bad. It’s also possible that the actors who agreed to appear in it, four of whom – yes, four – have won Academy Awards, need to reassess their relationships with their agents.
Its predecessor was offensive in its cavalier attitude towards mentoring at-risk youths. If you’re young and wayward, we were told, you can be helped by being recruited into a secret spy organization and trained to become a lethal killing machine. This new movie finds a different way to be offensive; under the guise of an obscenely over-the-top action comic-book comedy, it’s one of the most shamelessly brutal indictments of American citizens, using our backward views on drug legalization to beat a sociopolitical message over our heads. And of course the President (Bruce Greenwood) is portrayed as a latent genocidal madman.
But it doesn’t end there. In this film, we learn that there’s an American equivalent to the British Kingsman organization. Unlike Kingsman, which is fronted by a classy tailor shop, the American one is fronted by a whisky distillery in Kentucky, and virtually all its agents are good ol’ country boys in cowboy hats with southern drawls armed with shotguns and six-shooters. One of the agents (Channing Tatum) is introduced chewing on and spitting out tobacco, while another (Pedro Pascal) has a lasso that doubles as an electrified beam capable of cutting people in half. Oh, and all the agents are codenamed after alcohols. I remember Whisky, Tequila, and Champagne, the latter being the leader and is played by, and this should come as no surprise at all, Jeff Bridges.
Is this all we Americans are in the eyes of Vaughn? Cowboy stereotypes that booze it up? He must think so, especially when you consider that, in the film, the only source of breaking news about a worldwide drug-related pandemic is Fox News, which reasonable people know is a hotbed of right-wing propaganda. Yes, I’m well aware that we do have backward views on drug legalization, and there’s no denying the racist misogynist we have in the White House right now, who suffers from perpetual diarrhea of the mouth. That doesn’t mean we deserve to be so cruelly mocked, especially in a comic book movie at great pains to be gratuitously violent.
My God, but the things this movie asks us to believe. The fact that Colin Firth’s character, who was shot in the head at point-blank range in the previous film, could actually be revived with no real brain damage because of a gel sheet and end up with just one eye missing. The idea that Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is in love with the Princess of Sweden (Hanna Alström), who would of course be in England with Eggsy and spend casual nights with him and his friends drinking. The notion that the main villain, a perky woman (Julianne Moore), is the leader of the world’s largest drug cartel, and that she runs her empire in the ruins of a rainforest, which she would naturally make over to satisfy her love of 1950s nostalgia. In spite of her bubbly demeanor, this will not stop her from having one of her agents ground up in a meat grinder, forming his meat into a burger patty, grilling it, and forcing a new recruit to eat it.
And then there’s a character played by Halle Berry, who works for the American spy agency yet sticks out like a sore thumb, simply because she wasn’t directed to be the southern stereotype all the other American agents were made to be. She doesn’t even make an attempt at a southern accent. So what the hell is she doing there? But probably the most unbelievable thing of all is the fact that Moore’s character has kidnapped Elton John, the real Elton John, and forces him to sing his songs and play piano in her ‘50s-style theater. You might think you haven’t lived until you’ve seen John in full regalia – a brightly-colored feather suit, glittering spiked heels, oversized sunglasses – getting into a brutal kickfight and swearing like a sailor. But trust me, you have. He must really be desperate if he’s accepting work like this.
Oh, how I hated this movie. Kingsman: The Golden Circle exemplifies how spectacularly wrong a comic book adaptation can go, how low some filmmakers are willing to stoop, and how crazy or in dire straits or both some actors must be. It’s an affront to moviemaking as a whole. And yet I know it will be a hit, because, for reasons passing understanding, audiences have deluded themselves into tolerating the intolerable. We’re so much better than this. Then again, maybe we’re not. How else to explain why intelligence-insulting garbage like these Kingsman films, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the Transformers movies make millions, while thought-provoking masterpieces like Steve Jobs are virtually ignored?