Pedro Pascal

Kingsman: the Golden Circle

24/09/17

Marmite movies – you wait for ages and then two come along at once.

No sooner has the Twitterverse stopped ranting about Darren Aronfsky’s mother! than they are virtually foaming at the mouth over this sequel to Kingsman: the Secret Service. The way people talk about it, you’d think the original was some kind of cinematic masterpiece. It certainly wasn’t that, but it was, in my opinion, great fun – an adrenalin-fuelled Bond spoof. This first film covered the induction of straight talking street-kid, Eggsy into the suave and sartorially elegant ranks of the Kingsmen, a secret society pledged to defend the world from evil.

Inevitably perhaps, the sequel is bigger and flashier, with such a starry cast that Taron Egerton finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being third-billed in what is ostensibly his movie. Director Matthew Vaughan and writer Jane Goldman have clearly decided, this time out, to pursue an even more audacious plot line, cranking the old silly-o-metre up to maximum override – in the process, I’m afraid, making the whole thing a tad too ridiculous even for my taste.

Drug kingpin, Poppy (Julianne Moore), based in a secret hideout in the South American jungle (aren’t they all?), is seeking to enslave the world with her own brand of opiates. She even inserts a special ingredient into her produce that turns its users into blue-veined freaks with a life expectancy of just a few days. While she’s at it, she also unleashes a series of vicious attacks on the Kingsman headquarters, killing off most of its key operatives. The only two survivors, Eggsy  (Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), head off to Kentucky and the headquarters of Statesman, the American equivalent of their own organisation. There, they team up with Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) in a bid to find an antidote to Poppy’s drugs and save millions of people from an untimely death…

As I said, the plot is so borderline-deranged, it’s hard for an audience to feel any sense of jeopardy – and no amount of guest appearances from the likes of Elton John, Jeff Bridges or Poppy Delevingne can prevent this from feeling like an over-inflated soufflé, all style and very little substance. It’s not a total write-off, mind you. Vaughan still has a winning way with an action set-piece and there are several here that periodically ramp up the excitement, but all too soon we’re back to robot dogs, people being made into hamburgers, Eggsy knocking around with a princess and introducing her to all his mates on the estate… and then there’s the little matter of a character who was murdered in the previous film still being alive. How do they explain that one? Well, they do try. I can’t help feeling that a storyline that kept a little closer to some kind of reality would help no end.

Look, here’s the bottom line. If you didn’t like the first film, you’ll hate this – and if, like me, you enjoyed the first one, you might just be willing to accept everything being ramped up to number eleven. But as far as I’m concerned, this is where I bale out.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

(By the way, what’s with the John Denver thing? Here’s yet another movie that employs Take Me Home, Country Roads for one of its key scenes – about the fourth or fifth I’ve seen in as many months.)

The Great Wall

23/02/17

The Great Wall is an American/Chinese co-production and it’s reputedly the most expensive film ever made in China. It’s plain to see where all the money went. As you might expect from Zhang Yimou, director of House of Flying Daggers and Hero, this is all about spectacle, depicted on a gigantic scale. There are epic battle scenes galore and the recreation of the wall itself is absolutely jaw-dropping. A pity then, that the storyline is built on rather less robust foundations. It’s rambling, to say the least, at times quite nonsensical and it’s staggering to think that it took three screenwriters (one of them the very talented Tony Gilroy) to put it all together.

William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are a couple of soldiers of fortune who have ventured deep into the wilds of China in search of the fabled black powder. (Not a hallucinogenic drug but the stuff you blow things up with). After a run-in with an unseen adversary, they are taken captive by an army who’s task it is to defend the Great Wall against the Taotie, waves of ravening lizard like beasts who for reasons best known to themselves, regenerate and attack the wall every sixty years. When the newcomers prove themselves in a skirmish against the beasts, their lives are spared and Commander Lin (Tian Jing) starts to flutter her eyelashes at William, initiating a deepening (but perfectly chaste) relationship between them. Meanwhile, another captive, Ballard, (Willem Dafoe) who has lived behind the wall for twenty five years has devised an elaborate escape plan and hopes that William and Tovar will join him…

To be honest, nobody is going to watch this for the convincing plot. If you like Zhang Yimou’s unrivalled visuals then the chances are you will find this as aesthetically thrilling as I did. But it also has to be said that brilliant though the CGI beasties are, there are simply way too many of them. Half a dozen fearsome creatures would have had way more impact than the millions that we see swarming over every battle scene. Clearly the director does not subscribe to the old adage that ‘less is more.’ And I might also add that none of the Taotie are quite as fearsome as Damon’s attempt at an English accent… at least, I think it’s meant to be English. Or possibly Irish?

An important slice of American-Chinese cooperation or a somewhat flawed attempt at a credible blockbuster? You choose.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney