Whether or not you still enjoy the franchise, there is no question that the decision to reboot James Bond and his world into someone that resembles the dour and dreary Jason Bourne, has left a gaping hole in the genre.
While Bond invented the uniquely glorious idea of a ridiculously capable international spy (armed only with quips, gadgets, vodka and a healthy libido) having a jolly old time saving the world, 007 is now saddled with angsty personal issues, mommy issues, crybaby issue-issues, which is just not a whole lot of fun. And without the pleasures that come from those beloved Bond tropes, there is nothing to salvage a lousy story, which is why two of Daniel Craig’s four surly entries — Spectre and Quantum of Solace — have by far been the worst of the entire franchise.
Oh, and the early news is that in the next chapter, Craig’s face will complete its pinch as he avenges the death of his wife. Fun! Fun! Fun! And so…
For those of us who like our James Bonds spicy not sullen, for those of us who sometimes desire a couple hours in the dark so we can eat crap and forget about everything else, let us now join hands and thank the movie gods for Matthew Vaughn.
Less than 20 minutes into director Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a welcome sequel to his surprise 2014 smash, it struck me just how right my colleague James Delingpole is. As someone who came of age at the height of Roger Moore’s legendary take on everyone’s favorite license-to-killer, it all came rushing back — the feeling of having a blast at a spy movie.
And that is what Golden Circle is — from the Bond-like cold opening of an action spectacle, straight through to watching our hero Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) come even further of age as a superspy, significant other, and English gentleman — what we have here is a compelling, over-the-top extravaganza filled with big laughs. Part of what makes it so satisfying, though, is that without ever stooping to preach, Vaughn actually has something to say, and does so ever so slyly.
What I especially appreciate is Vaugh’s underlying traditional sense of morality. Which is not to argue that the overlying F-bombs, a virtual tour up a woman’s cha-cha, a gayer than gay Elton John being spectacularly gay, and people fed into a meat grinder lack morality.
As in the first film (and Vaughn’s dazzling Kick-Ass), those moments are about an artist expressing his belief in personal and artistic freedom, about lifting a middle finger to the squares, about laughing in the face of all those pieties on the left and right. And in our increasingly humorless and fascistic society, I cannot think of anything more moral.
Better still, as bawdy and brutal as the R-rated romp gets, unlike almost every other movie these days, Vaughn is not interested in visceral or dirty. What this all is is naughty. And naughty is fun. I miss naughty.
So on the surface Vaughn is a swaggering rebel flying his freedom flag. Just below, though, lurks a more traditional “just say no” message about drugs, a deeply held respect for the traditions of the English gentleman, the necessity of masculinity, and a (humorous) reminder that real men do not stray, even if she is hot and willing, even if it might save the world.
Vaughn is no anarchist or nanny-stater (the Kingsman are necessary because western governments have become hopelessly inept and corrupt), nor is he a moralizer or scold. Rather, Kingsman is a healthy (and entertaining) reminder that personal freedom not only comes with a price — a price paid by valiant men and woman, but that without those stuffy Western values and traditions, without that moral foundation, there will be a total loss of freedom in all the anarchy.
If this sounds like heavy stuff, I promise you it is delivered in a lark of a story involving a narco queen, the appropriately named Poppy (Julianne Moore), and her dastardly plot to blackmail the United States into legalizing her product. Angry over the fact that as a woman she is not getting her due as the most successful CEO in history, this deranged sociopath (a cross between June Cleaver and Joy Behar) has poisoned her own product. Only she has the antidote … and the clock is ticking.
For reasons I will not spoil, in order to foil Poppy, Kingsmen Eggsy and Merlin (a terrific Mark Strong), find themselves in rural Kentucky looking up their American counterparts, the Statesman. From here, with some supporting help from Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Jeff Bridges (who are obviously hoping for a spin-off of their own — and let’s hope they get it), they team up with another Statesman named Whiskey (the great Pedro Pascal going the full-70’s Burt Reynolds) and set off to save millions of drug users and addicts — which brings me to another important point the movie makes.
Not everyone wants to save these people. Some, including the powerful, believe the world will be better off without these pathetic leaches and criminals. By letting them die, the War on Drugs will be won and all those tax dollars go someplace else.
So what we have here is a strong sense of humanity and a tour up a woman’s cha-cha.
What could be more American than that?