Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

By: Kevin Jordan

It sucked, but not because it’s a sequel.

Just before the movie It released and shattered box office records, a bunch of Chicken Littles wrote a bunch of articles bemoaning the poor summer box office returns, reheating a classic groupthink explanation for those poor returns.  Variety provided a great example of this intellectual emptiness, stating “Yes, all the aforementioned titles are reboots or part of a major franchise. Yes, that’s precisely what summer ticket sales indicate audiences are tired of.”  Really?  That must mean the highest-grossing movies of the year aren’t reboots, sequels, or franchise entries.  Strange, that list isn’t mentioned or referenced in the article, so we’ll have to go somewhere else and look and, oh…

  1. Beauty and the Beast
  2. The Fate of the Furious
  3. Despicable Me 3
  4. Wolf Warriors 2
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  7. Wonder Woman
  8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
  9. Logan
  10. Transformers: The Last Knight

Huh.  Not one of those movies is even remotely new material.  But, surely those movies at least have lower grosses than the top films from last year.  Checkiiiinnnnggg, nope, pretty much the same numbers and the top two movies this year eclipsed the top two from last year (which were also not original).  Oh, wow, we still have Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Star Wars VIII, and Pitch Perfect 3 left this year?

After reading several more piles of similar drivel, I starting writing up a rant in my head to counter them, but came across a piece in The Atlantic that seemingly stole the rant right out of my brain.  Without reciting the entire article, the author makes very good points about how nobody complains about television shows being recycled.  I’d like to take that argument down some parallel roads.  Nobody ever had a good first date, then turned down a second date because it featured the same people.  Nobody ever ate a good slice of pizza and turned down a second slice because it was made with the same ingredients.  Nobody ever watched a sporting event and vowed never to watch another game from the sport again because now they know what to expect.  Nobody ever had sex and turned down a second romp because been there, done that.  I’d bet my house that if you haven’t expressed that very same “Hollywood is just reboots and sequels” cliché, you’ve heard at least seventeen other people say it.  And every single time it sounds just as vapid.

Two people nobody wanted to see in this film.

With all that in mind, wow, did Kingsman: The Golden Circle sequel suck.  The first movie received well-deserved accolades and reviews and the sequel takes all of that goodwill and wipes its ass with it.  Movies like this are one of the reasons why the aforementioned cliché won’t die.  But it didn’t suck because it was a sequel.  It sucked because it was a poorly written and lazy movie.  What it did do that a lot of other crappy sequels have done is completely fail to understand what made the original so likeable.  After watching the original, you almost undoubtedly reminisced about the church scene, the bar fight scene, the chick with the sword legs, or everyone’s head exploding into a shower of fireworks.  It was the perfect blend of insanity, political commentary, comedy, and action.  The Golden Circle is none of those things, barely even trying to be at times.

(SPOILER ALERT)

The best way to describe the components of The Golden Circle is watered down.  As stupid as Samuel L. Jackson’s lisp was in the first film, he was at least a great villain in all other respects.  This time, we have Poppy Adams, a bland villain phoned in by Julianne Moore with no interesting or memorable characteristics.  Poppy is the head of a drug cartel that makes $250 billion per year and makes her headquarters in some Cambodian ruins partially made over to look like a 1950s era main street.  Hilarious, right?  Also, she is stupid.  I don’t mean just the character in general, but she’s actually written to come off as really stupid.  Early on, she blathers about how humans can’t be trusted and we meet her robot dogs, robot hair stylist, and…no other robots.  $250 billion a year can buy a lot of robots, so why does she still have so many humans working for her?  This contradiction is punctuated when she forces a henchman to feed another henchman into a meat grinder.  And her evil plot?  She has laced all of her drugs with a poison that gives people blue veiny rashes, causes them to dance, paralyzes them, then kills them and told the leaders of the world that she will release the antidote once they legalize all drugs.  Her stated motivation is to be a legitimate businesswoman so she can move out of Cambodia.  Think about that for a second.  If her cartel was a country, it would have the 45th highest GDP in the world, but she decided to risk it all by stealing the Joker’s plot from Batman so people would like her.  I never thought I’d miss the lisp.

We’re laughing because we can’t figure out how you won an Oscar.

Then there are the characters.  Remember all the ones you liked from the first movie?  Well, too bad, all of them are quickly and unceremoniously killed in the first half hour except Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong).  I’m not counting Princess Tilde (Hannah Alstrom) because I honestly do not remember her in the first movie.  At all.  Not even a little bit.  Also, Colin Firth is brought back to life by a magic, rubber head wrap because science (he was shot through the eye and brain in the first film and was definitely dead).  Or director/writer Matthew Vaughn loves soap operas.  Either way, it was a poor writing decision (and I like Colin Firth).  All of the dead are replaced with cardboard cutouts played by a couple of Oscar winners (Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, and Elton John), Channing Tatum, and that guy who played the Red Viper in Game of Thrones (Pedro Pascal).  What’s that?  I made up the Elton John part?  I most certainly did not.  I’ll have you know he delivered the best performance of the film…and that’s really sad.

(Note: All kidding aside, Sir Elton really did outperform everyone else in this movie, maybe because he was the only who realized how truly insipid the screenplay was and really had fun with it.)

The common thread is that the writing is what you’d expect from a ten-year-old second grader.  Go ahead and do the math; I’ll wait.  Throughout the bloated 141-minute running time, bad dialogue competes with stupid code names which fight with pointless actions that are stomped on by humorless jokes, all of which don’t look so bad next to the mind-numbing science/gadgets and soulless love story.  Want some examples?

  • Eggsy steps on a land mine despite having a mine detector.
  • Poppy has kidnapped Elton John (playing himself) and her two robot dogs are named Benny and Jet. (Side note: COME ON!!!!  Tiny and Dancer are the two obvious joke names for two killer robot dogs.)
  • The Kingsmen are named after Knights of the Round Table, which is clever. The Statesmen are named after liquor, which is not clever.  Plus, they are not even consistent – Halle Berry is codenamed Ginger Ale.
  • Eggsy calls his girlfriend to tell her he has to sleep with a girl for his job, thus setting off the rom-com misunderstanding.
  • Immediately after that call, Eggsy fingers the girl with a tracking condom on his finger (I wish I was making that up) because “it has to be in a mucous membrane.” To top it off, this scene somehow features zero nudity (the girl is in her underwear and Eggsy is fully clothed).
  • In order to force a bar fight into the film (ala the last film), after a conversation in a bar between the agents, a random barfly stands up after a short silence and, with exactly zero provocation or even eye contact with the agents, yells at the “faggots to get out of the bar.” Nevermind, the wildly inappropriate and out-of-place usage of that slur (another thoughtless writing choice), you could all but see a cue card for the guy to pick that fight in order to show us that Whiskey (ugh) can CGI-twirl a rope and whip.
  • The Statesmen have baseball grenades.
  • Merlin makes a point of grabbing a gigantic knife before the climax, only to be killed before getting to use it.
  • The traitor (of course there is a traitor) wants to prevent everyone dying from the poison from being saved because his girlfriend was killed in the crossfire of two meth addicts shooting at each other.

Want to see my whip?

It’s important to know that I didn’t hate this movie.  In fact, there are very few movies I’ve hated.  Hating a movie and criticizing a movie for being garbage are two different things.  My friend said he was at least kind of entertained and I can respect that.  I’ve been plenty entertained by terrible movies, too.  Unlike during my screening of American Assassin, I took some notes (no light pen required) to capture corpse count (102, not counting the robots) and novelty deaths (shoved in a meat grinder, impaled by a ten-foot tall scissors, cut in half by Whiskey’s magic lasso) because those things tend to make purposely absurd movies more fun.  I also jotted down some quotes, one of which sums up this movie nicely: “That’s the first decent shit I’ve had in three weeks.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and stop saying you hate sequels.  You don’t hate sequels; you just hate bad movies.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

By: Kevin Jordan

Stop the madness.

mockingjay1

I realize it’s been two weeks since Mockingjay opened, but the extra time allowed me to read some other reviews because there’s not a lot I enjoy more than picking on main stream movie critics.  This isn’t a case where a shitty movie inexplicable enjoyed glowing reviews (John Wick) or where the hands-down, best movie of the year (Interstellar) inexplicably received worse review than said shitty movie.  This is a case where I was simply curious to read other opinions because Mockingjay the book is a little divisive among readers.  Charlie Jane Anders at Io9 wrote a great piece explaining why Mockingjay is a better book than Catching Fire and while I liked both books equally, she provides a great insight into why people prefer one or the other.  Conversely, many of the movie reviews I read chose not to bother with this type of examination (or any type of examination of anything, for that matter).  Instead, they generally did one of two things – either they heaped praises on the film for its action and acting or they crapped on the film for being Part 1.  Both of those angles are equally funny to me because the former read like a canned response written by the studio (Lionsgate) and the latter read like a bunch of spoiled brats whining just for the sake of whining.

It amuses me (maybe a little too much) that the people who love complaining about Hollywood’s mythical lack of imagination are the same people who think it’s original to tell us many times over how obvious a money grab it is to split the concluding book of a series into two movies.  Wait, you mean it’s surprising that a business is doing whatever it can to make as much money as possible?  Wow – I need to take a knee so that revelation can sink in.  What’s funnier is that they are acting as if their opinion is somehow going to convince these studios to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table by not splitting future movies the same way.  I don’t like it either, but it’s really only a bad idea if the movies are executed poorly (Twilight and Harry Potter), not to mention it’s been going on for decades.  You might think the original Star Wars trilogy was three separate movies, but The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were the same movie split into two parts.  Think about it – Star Wars stands alone and has a very definitive ending, the destruction of the Death Star.  Empire ends in a cliff hanger and big revelation and Jedi ties those things up.  And you can be sure I’m right because had Star Wars not been so popular, 20th Century Fox wouldn’t have greenlit both sequels.  The same thing was repeated with The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean (to name just two).

My point is that these angry critics seem to be most upset at the Part 1 in the title rather than the movie itself and they really need to get over it.  Had these movies not been based on three books, Mockingjay would serve as an adequate title.  For next year’s finale, Mockingjay doesn’t fit so cleanly, but calling it anything else would end with a legion of tweens breaking the Internet.  The only reason The Hobbit trilogy isn’t using Part in the title is because Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema are trying to hide the fact that they split a 300-page children’s book into three absurdly long (and not very good) movies.

As I hinted at earlier, Mockingjay Part 1 is easily the best of the unnecessary, part-one-of-final-book movies (though that’s not saying much).  Harry Potter spent the majority of his in a tent and at a wedding and Bella and Edward spend theirs on their honeymoon.  Both of those movies easily could have been whittled down to the first ten minutes of the final film, but again, $$$$$$$$.  I’d be lying if I said Mockingjay couldn’t do the same thing, but the overarching story benefits more from Mockingjay Part 1 than Twilight and Harry Potter do from theirs.

Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games author) had a much bigger goal with her books than “defeat Voldemort” or whatever the hell was at stake in Twilight.  She wanted to write about class warfare and a totalitarian government and how the United States is slowly going down that path (that these books ended up in the Young Adult category has always fascinated me considering a great deal of time is spent murdering children).  While you can see those ideas in the first two movies (and books), they are relegated to the background as everybody’s attention is on Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the games themselves.  Part 1 remedies that by focusing all of its attention there.  Yes, Collins easily could have condensed it down since we did get enough in the first two films to understand that the districts would rebel, but she really wanted to make a statement.  One of the criticisms by some critics is that Mockingjay gets away from that formula, but those critics are willfully pretending Part 2 hasn’t already been written and that, as a whole, it follows the formula exactly.  The only difference is that the arena is the Capitol and it’s not just kids playing this time.

On the other side, the critics praising the film are going a little overboard.  There is far less action this time around and the film gets a little redundant.  Part 1 is the calm before the war and is all about rallying the districts together behind Katniss.  Many scenes feature a film crew following Katniss through destroyed districts for propaganda purposes interspliced with political wrangling by the leaders of the rebellion and the chess match between the Capitol and rebellion on the air waves.  In addition, some of the characters are notably flatter, especially in Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Hoffman’s Plutarch seemed like a completely different character than the one in Catching Fire and the only time Moore ever showed emotion was through fist pumps (I’m not kidding), which looked as ridiculous as it sounds.  While it might have been the directing, it seemed like the two of them didn’t care that their characters had all the charisma of Eeyore on Prozac.  Luckily, Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and Josh Hutcherson pick up the pace, reminding us who the truly interesting characters still are.  I particularly enjoyed Hutcherson’s Peeta, who is forced to give a series of interviews and statements to the districts and looks worse for wear with every appearance.  If anyone in this film is underappreciated, it’s Hutcherson.

If you’ve made it through all of my rambling, the answer to your questions is yes, I enjoyed the film and no, not as much as the previous two.  Like I said, it’s completely unnecessary to split the book into two movies, but at least they made a decent movie out of it.  Before I go, there’s more thing that some of the media has been harping on and acted surprised by – that Mockingjay has not performed quite as well at the box office as its predecessors, even though it’s still crushing it.  Given that many people will decide to just wait until next year and watch it right before the finale opens, it’s not at all surprising.  One of these days these critics will actually start deconstructing movies instead of rehashing them and complaining about non-issues and this madness will finally end.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back because you know you’ll be seeing Part 2 at least twice.