Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017): Comic Book Genius

Co-written by director Matthew Vaughn (who shares authorship with Jane Goldman) and based, again, on the comic series written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the remake that Kick-Ass 2 should have been.

In short it is catchy, uber-violent, on-point and, despite the brilliant wire-work violence and gun play, damned funny. It is, of course, somewhat topical in places but it works for all that.

Vaughn cheekily has two of his leads, Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) make a joke so topical that unless you are English you won’t get it.  After the organization is blown to smithereens by baddie Julianne Moore (who plays Poppie) Merlin and Eggsy perform the “Doomsday Protocol.” 

This involves drinking almost an entire bottle of Kentucky bourbon. Eggsy realizes that the bottle itself is a clue and tells a sozzled Merlin that they will have journey to Kentucky. Merlin replies “Kentucky? I love fried chicken!”

It was, in the ’80’s anyway, the way the local denizens referred to the Colonel’s eatery, aka KFC in the UK. “You fancy a Kentucky?” was how one suggested eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, “back in the day.”

This “in-joke” set up the rest of the film beautifully and Vaughn managed to include stereotypical jokes about Americans, aka “Yanks” and the English “stiff upper lipped-ness” along with other bits of irreverent humor. The comedic moments mixed nicely with the oh so over the top violence and “Bond-ian”gadgets that filled the movie.

Anyone who has seen the trailers already knows that Colin Firth is back as the original “Galahad” and Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Narcos star Pedro Pascal, who manages to look a bit like Burt Reynolds and sound like Nathan Fillion, all make up the American Contingent. 

Strong reprises his role as Merlin, Roxy “Lancelot” reappears, albeit briefly and the brilliant Michael Gambon is Michael Caine’s replacement for a short while.

Kingman: The Golden Circle is adrenaline pumped, glorious escapism at its finest. Like “Kick-Ass” (Vaughn’s first uber-violent film based on a comic.) this sequel combines the best of all worlds. A certain grim humour combined with spectacular wire-work, cracking CG and stunts that match almost anything done on a real Bond film.

Sir Elton John has a splendid cameo and proves that, given the right conditions, he can act his little cotton socks off.  Moore makes a better villain than Samuel L. Jackson’s weak-stomached bad-guy, who actually seemed to kill Galahad in the first film.

(Sadly, this film marks the last appearance of the excellent Swedish actor Björn Granath.)

The cinematography by George Richmond, who worked on the first film, is seamless and practically perfect.  Everything snaps, crackles and pops in the fast paced sequel and it nearly takes your breath away with a pace that makes the two hour and 21 minute film speed by.

(On a side note: The keen eyed viewer will notice something very familiar about the Kingsman tailor flag outside the shop. Think Kick-Ass and you will get it immediately.)

Halle Berry makes a great American counterpart to Strong’s Merlin and it was nice to see Eggsy’s mum, played by Samantha Womack turn up again. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is enough of a treat that one can forgive his miscalculation with Kick-Ass 2. All is forgiven Mr. Vaughn and we await a third installment in this franchise.

“Kingsman 2” is a full five star bit of entertainment that enthralls and captivates throughout. It is well worth sitting through and proves that Vaughn’s films are fun and clever.

As the film is rated ‘R’ the language is a tad coarse as is some of the humour. We strongly urge you to see this in the cinema, although it is a bit loud, to get the full impact of this outstanding sequel.

“IT” (2017): Six of One… Yet Another Stephen King Translation

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Any long term fan of Stephen King will view this 2017 offering  of “IT” as a mixed bag. Some things are spot on while others are so far off the mark that they come close to the unpalatable. It really is a case of “six of one, half a dozen of another” in terms of an enjoyment factor. At the end of the film one tends to feel a tad underwhelmed and not a little disappointed.

Before having a moan about what should not have been done, let us firstly congratulate the director; Andy Muschietti and the screenwriters Chase PalmerCary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman for having the cojones to take on the task of transferring King’s massive tome to the big screen. The novel is a huge bit of work and takes even the fastest readers a long time to wade through. (Although it is well worth the effort…)

This team ultimately did a fine job, as did the rest of the creative group involved; for one thing they created a feasible looking Derry, Maine. The dialogue for the kids fit but, sadly, the move to the 1980’s was a mistake. Bill Skarsgård and his incredible makeup presented a perfectly terrifying Pennywise and the young actress who played Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis) bears watching. 

(It goes without saying that Finn Wolfhard of the Netflix phenom “Stranger Things” did very well as Richie “Trash Mouth” Tozier…)

However:

Muschietti, who directed the disturbing, creepy, sad and scary “Mama,” borrowed from his own FX created “villian” to create a creature not in the book. He also adapted two “scares” that were lifted from two well known J-Horror movies: The Grudge (Ju-On: The Grudge) and The Ring (Ringu). Each “lift” was changed to fit the scenario involved but both detracted from the King verse and his scare tactics.

Leaving aside the disappointing “Hollywood” versions of scary scenes, it bears mentioning that the film and the CG effects were spot on. The young actors all knocked it out of the park: Jaeden LieberherJeremy Ray TaylorChosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff, as well as the other actors already mentioned, bring a lot of truth to their, somewhat, underdeveloped characters. 

Whatever changes that the team made work, although they do not work as well as King’s original. That is to be expected, however, as some things just do not translate well. Although the decision to leave the “flashback” device used in both the book and its first adaptation may make for a confusing and somewhat short “chapter two.”

It may well be that no matter what was done in this version of King’s book was doomed to be somewhat disappointing full stop. It seems to borrow heavily from the previously mentioned Stranger Things – an ’80’s soundtrack, kids on bikes and a quarry and this works but it was never needed in this movie.

Visually the film is a treat. The use of Chung-hoon Chung (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Thirst and Stoker) guaranteed a rich tapestry of colour and lighting that fit each scene perfectly. The sets tend to stray too close to Stranger Things territory but they still work for all that.

Pennywise, with his almost Bugs Bunny-like teeth, comes across more as a snotty  bully who likes to bite – although this works – and this makes his killer clown very different from Tim Curry’s version from the mini-series.  Sadly the move of time period left out many references used in the book that worked so well.

Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about the film is that it was not overly scary. The theater audience never jumped, spilled popcorn or actually gasped/screamed. This reviewer jumped twice, once because of the over done use of loud sound to sell a scare and one very unexpected presence on screen.

The King fan will find lots of references to the book and Derry in general but overall, at a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, waiting for the dual set DVD may be advisable for those who do not want to pay the full price of a cinema ticket, twice.

Another thing worth mentioning is that “IT” is rated ‘R’ and is not suitable for younger children although there were several there with their parents or older siblings who were the wrong side of 12…

In terms of star ratings, “IT” earns a full 5 stars for budget, level of care and presentation. The film does run that little bit too long though and leaves so much out of each character’s development that it will annoy die hard fans of the book.

(It may also help to be in one’s mid 20’s. The younger members of the audience, not the children, did start to applaud at the end of the film. Something not everyone will want to do as, overall, the film does disappoint on many levels.)

“IT” is breaking box office records for horror and is well worth waiting in the line to see. Hit it while its hot off the reel and, Stephen King fan or no, you will most likely enjoy this big budget horror film. At the end of the day it is much better than Kubrick’s version of “The Shining” and it is not a “found footage” film…