“Kingsman: the Golden Circle” movie review

Rough start, but a smooth finish. The highly anticipated sequel to Kingsman: the Secret Service releases this week, and you are in for a fun time! Unfortunately, not as great a time as you had with the first one. Looks like this franchise fell victim to the same condition that plagues so many franchises’ sequels. One of the experiential elements that made the first one so great is the constant reminder that “this isn’t one of those movies.” The original was self-aware and full of excellent writing. Though this sequel contains the similar action and comedy, the novelty, that was the first, is lost with Golden Circle. A struggle of many sequels is opening with sufficient connections to the original but not in such a way that it feels like the same plot. Although the movie finishes satisfyingly well, the first scene felt too much like a cliche action movie–too animated feeling. However, it finds its way back to the soul of the original soon enough. Perhaps this installment plays out differently because it no longer feels new and different. While the writing may not be as on point as the previous film, the cast is still fantastic and there is one reoccurring cameo in particular that will catch you pleasantly by surprise.

After an explosive car chase through the streets of London, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) witnesses he destruction of his apartment, close colleagues, and discovers the headquarters of The Kingsman completely wiped off the planet. With nothing left to do except follow the mysterious doomsday protocol, Eggsy finds his way to a counterpart operations in the United States known as Statesman. Meanwhile, much of the world finds itself hostage in the grasp of Poppy (Julianne Moore), a peppy beautiful drug lord operating out of a remote jungle location. Poppy has poisoned illegal drugs with a compound that brings about certain death if left untreated. In exchange for the antidote, she is forcing the US President to declassify all drugs in order to tax them like a normal legit business. Once connected with the elite team of Statesman, both agents must form a partnership to take down Poppy and save the world from mass genocide.

Although this is a fun movie–no mistaking that–it contains far too many gimmicks than solid writing. The strength in the first one was two fold: (1) the writing and (2) the cast. Given that Golden Circle contains many of the same cast members, the fault has to then be in the writing. So much of the comedy and character dynamics felt forced and less organic than the original. This film serves as evidence than even an all-star powerhouse cast and talented director cannot save a film built upon sloppy writing. The Secret Service wowed audiences with a movie that transcended all other James Bond spoofs to create a world of its own–that’s it–it felt unique in a world filled with conventional and parodied espionage movies. Character wise, Eggsy is no longer the protagonist in a My Fair Lady meets James Bond but just another flat would-be action hero. Julianna Moore’s Poppy is more interesting because she is a cross between a deranged 1950s housewife meets Martha Stewart meets drug cartel kingpin. Though the trailers contain a lot of Tatum, his character goes by the wayside at the end of Act I. Halle Berry is a solid choice for her counterpart to Strong’s Merlin.

By in large, the plot is just too silly and lacks innovation. Even the cameo by a well-known and talented vocal artist feels like an excuse to dust off the most flamboyant costumes. The plot is certainly not helped by the heavy-handed CGI effects throughout the film, and it’s so incredibly concentrated in the beginning that it feels like an animated film. That’s not to say that there aren’t reasons to enjoy Kingsman: the Golden Circle. I certainly had a good time and so did my friend who accompanied me to the advanced screening in Tampa. Some of the enjoyable parts of the film are the high profile cameo, seeing A-list actors just have fun portraying outrageous characters, and the humorous one-liners delivered tongue in cheek. Although the opening scene is over the top, it does quickly connect the beginning of this film with the end of the previous one. Had this film taken itself more seriously as a spy movie that happened to also be funny, then I think it would have be more appreciated by the audience. Despite the rough opening, the film does manage to come in for a smooth finish and leads into another installment.

If you’re looking for 2015’s Kingsman, then you may be disappointed. If you’re looking for a fun spy movie spoof, then you’ll likely enjoy The Golden Circle for the most part.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” movie review

Mockingjay 2Audiences witness a franchise and world-wide phenomenon come in for a mostly smooth, however anti-climactic, landing. The final installment in the Hunger Games franchise Mockingjay Part 2 over-promises and under-delivers. Despite that, the continued plot from Part 1 is carried out well enough and has many poignant moments and a few exciting sequences. You will also get to watch two of the best-written scenes in the entire franchise. Instead of a continued goodbye to Philip Seymour Hoffman, his few appearances in the film actually remind audiences that the majority of Part 2 was actually filmed in early 2014 and all the actors have long-since moved onto other projects and left the dystopian world of Panem behind. The first act of the movie begins abruptly and may bore you, but Acts Two and Three will deliver some impressive scenes and generate a great deal of excitement and anticipation. At the end of the day, The Hunger Games is one of the best examples of a cash grab with only Disney’s Frozen leading the pack for the ultimate superficial, absent of any critical value, cash cow.

Pick up right where you left off with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) having just survived the vicious attack from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). By now, Katniss, President Coin (Julianne Moore), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and Finnick (Sam Claflin) all realize that the stakes are incredibly higher than they ever thought. For now, they are on a mission for the survival of the rebellion and to keep Panem from imploding on itself and falling into complete chaos. Ignoring President Coin’s orders, Katniss stows away and joins a special operations team on the front lines with one goal in mind–assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With the end in sight, the rebellion infiltrates the capital and continues to press on toward the presidential estate in order to bring the thoughtless deaths and dictatorship of Snow to a close.

Over all, the movie does a good job of bringing the high-concept plot to a close. It also finishes its run on top as other films try to be a Hunger Games but fail to deliver the same value. You know you did something right when there are half a dozen other big-budget films and parodies that are based on similar concepts made popular in the franchise. The most prominent disappointment in Mockingjay Part 2 is the abrupt start and fairly anti-climactic denouement. This film cannot be entirely held responsible for the rough first act because Part 1 should have ended with Peeta strangling Katniss before we witness her in the neck brace. Starting Part 2 with Katniss in the neck brace without having seen her in it, in the previous installment, would have been a much better choice. Her recovery from the acute neck trauma was also a little rushed. It would have been more appropriate and added to the emotional power of the film to see her slowly recover as she makes her way towards Snow’s mansion. The chemistry between Katniss and Peeta is not as well played out in this chapter as it had been in the previous movies. Not having read the books, I am unsure if that is how it is supposed to be or the writers and director just didn’t feel the chemistry was important.  There are a few tense moments between Peeta and Katniss that show a quality of writing not often found in the rest of the franchise.

Although the writing throughout the films has not been a strong point–not that is has been bad–just that it is not as strong as it should be, there are two scenes from Part 2 that are emotionally powerful and very well written. Without giving anything away, there is a scene with Katniss and Peeta lying awake at night talking. The exchange of dialog is some of the best writing in the entire series; however, just when the writers were about to hit a homerun, it ends suddenly at the buildup. The emotional highs and lows of the relationship between Katniss and Peeta are seen in this brief portion of the movie. Towards the end of the movie after the capital has been won over and Snow is being held captive in his own estate, Katniss approaches him for what would be one of the last times. She finally comes face to face with her oppressor turned prisoner. If there was one scene selected for its contributions to the film in both acting, writing, and directing, this scene would be it. The tension felt between Snow and Katniss is so think that it could be cut with a knife. Truths are told and secrets revealed that are a game changer that comes out of left field (for those of us who have not read the books). In many movies, a scene like this may not contain much in the way of class, but Sutherland brings that sense of the notorious paired with high class that he is known for.

This is it! We finally get to the capital. Wait. It is already in ruins??? Despite the fact that some of the best scenes from the Hunger Games franchise take place in this last installment within the walls of the opulent, garish, lavish capital of Panem, the audience does not get to witness the decay and destruction of the city that flourished on the backs of those who begrudgingly took from their lands to support the lifestyle of the 1%. Where is the forced transition from, what amounts to, heaven to hell? The gold and silver lined streets, turning into ash??? There would have been some critical and intrinsic value in watching the city destroy itself amidst the house of cards that it build. Instead we get thrown in to the post-war Panem. Even for our characters, there would have been immense satisfaction in watching the capital pay for the shattered lives and broken families that proved the resources for their glutinous lifestyle. Just before the war comes to an end, there is a death scene that is handled quite poorly. There is no emotional windup or climax–it is just a quick death that you could miss by looking down at your popcorn or that text message. Audiences leave the world of Panem with some degree of hope for the once dystopian society that finally has a chance at a fair, democratic, and bright future.

It is definitely evident that this franchise fought hard and valiantly to stay relevant and alive for the past few years. From what I can gather, this last installment in The Hunger Games plays it closely to the book, with some exceptions that definitely could have been visually told better. It does what a final chapter should do and brings the narrative to a close by providing a degree of resolution. Even though there are many elements of the movie that could have been treated with more finesse and better developed, it is probably the best in the franchise. Whether you only watch the movies or you are among those who read the books and then saw the movies, this film should appeal to both audiences.