Weird Westerns: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
The sequel to the 2014 film about English spies relocates to America and to a group of cowboy-themed agents who manufacture bourbon on the side.
By Max Sparber
The first "Kingsman" film spent a lot of time toying with the idea of Englishness, placing a Multicultural London English-speaking chav into the classically posh world of the English secret agent. The film was so steeped in its Englishness that its spies were named after members of Arthur's round table, and the filmmakers had great fun taking Savile Row smartness and pushing it into parody.
Within the first 10 minutes of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," all that is destroyed, and so our chav hero Eggsy must make his way to America and to his American sister organization, the Statesmen, and that is what I wish to discuss.
But first let me sum up the plot: Julianne Moore plays an international drug magnate who lives in Cambodia in a fortress she has designed to look like the set of "Grease;" even her guards wear letter jackets. She's not so much obsessed with the 50s as with pop culture representations of the 50s, and, in one of the film's odder elements, she has kidnapped Elton John and makes him perform for her, presumably because he was responsible for "Crocodile Rock."
She has a scheme to poison most of the world with laced party drugs and then blackmail the US president for the cure, and, well, that's about it. Most of the movie is the combined Kingsmen and Statemen figuring out her plan and working together to stop it, which takes on special urgency since people they know are infected. It takes additional urgency beyond that when they discover the president is an amoral sociopath who sees this as an opportunity to win the drug war by allowing all the addicts to die.
Oh, and Galahad, the urbane super spy played by Colin Firth in the first film, returns, despite having been shot in the head in the last film. Firth is typically marvelous, backed up again by Mark Strong as the Kingmen's version of Q, who is undeniably charming. The whole cast is appealing, including Taron Egerton as Eggsy and Moore being livelier and funnier than her role really demanded.
But I am here to discuss the Statesmen, because the filmmaker's chose to have the same sort of fun with Americanness in this film that they had with Englishness in the last. While the Kingsmen passed themselves off as humble tailors, the Statesmen run a bourbon company, and while the Kingsmen favored the bowler and brolly of the London banker, the Statesmen dress like cowboys.
Heck, they do more than dress like cowboys. Channing Tatum, in what amounts to an extended cameo, is handy with a shotgun. Pedro Pascal, the organization's senior agent, is skilled at all the cowboy arts: He carries an electrified lasso capable of cutting a man in half, is deadly with a bullwhip, carries a massive bowie knife on his hip, and can't have a gunfight without spinning his pistols.
Everything in the Statesmen's world seems to take inspiration from the design of a whisky bottle, starting with the wooden meeting room in their headquarters (overseen by Jeff Bridges) that is festooned with portraits that all look like mountain men. The Statesmen wear flasks as belt buckles and sip frequently, and at least half of them seem to be chewing tobacco at any particular time.
The film is hugely overstuffed, and so a lot of elements feel like they get short-shrift: Halle Berry is on hand as the Q for the Statesmen, and she spends most of the movie looking pensively at a screen and frantically typing at a keyboard, which is a disappointing underuse of a Halle Berry. (There are hints she would be a larger character in a sequel.)
But the film never skimps on its dedication to inventing a parodic American superspy organization made up of bourbon-swilling cowboys. God bless the film for that, and God bless America.