Sequelitis – “The tendency of a well-received work to spawn many inferior sequels.”
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was the biggest cinematic surprise of that year, delivering a slick, audaciously ballsy Spy film that made current Bond films look tame by comparison. Matthew Vaughn’s hyperkinetic direction helped give the spy genre a much-needed adrenaline shot, paying homage to the fun camp that once encompassed the genre, while embracing the possibilities of the future. Not to mention that the film’s “church scene” (you know the one) stands as what is quite possibly the best action sequence of this decade.
Even better was that the film became a box office smash, grossing over 400 million dollars, no small feat for an R-rated spy film starring a then-unknown Taron Edgerton. Audiences were clamoring for a follow up to this high octane, shamelessly funny gem of a film. Fast forward two years and out comes the follow-up, titled The Golden Circle. So many questions were left after the first one: how is Colin Firth returning after his character’s death? Did that church ever open up after the incident, and most importantly HOW LONG DID EGSY LAST WITH THE PRINCESS?!
Things looked favorable for The Golden Circle, with brilliantly made trailers highlighting the series’ well known humor and Matthew Vaughn’s gift for action sequences. It also didn’t hurt that the film’s principal cast had Tarantino levels of ensemble talent. Like I said to my friend Luca while driving to the theater, “There is no way this film can fail”.
Simply put, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the most disappointing film of the year, being yet another unnecessary, inconsequential sequel that wants to convince its audience that it is the next Empire Strikes Back or The Godfather Part II. In short, it doesn’t reach the heights that a sequel needs to justify its very existence.
The very essence of a sequel is to continue the narrative created by the first film, creating a natural follow up and series of events that compliments its predecessor. Rather than just being a carbon copy of the first film, a sequel dares to go into different directions that challenge the audience and pits the characters into predicaments that are fresh and new, fleshing out their characters to make the film’s final punch even more powerful and gut-wrenching. You have been on a ride with these characters for two entire movies, almost four hours worth of story; It’s only right that the filmmakers can use the audience’s investment to their advantage. For almost the entirety of 2017, it seems that almost all sequels fail to realize the potential they have, no matter how much the director tweets about their desire for their sequel to be unique and different (I’m looking at you, James Gunn).
Warning: First Act spoilers for The Golden Circle follow:
Rather than going into bold and new directions, films nowadays settle for the redundant, becoming a carbon copy of its superior predecessor. Golden Circle initially dares to be a haunting, darker sequel to its 2015 starter, opening with a slick, exciting car-fight/chase sequence to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”. Already starting with white hot momentum, the film has the gall, the balls if you will, to actually kill off favorites Roxy and Eggsy’s pug, aptly named JB (after Jack Bauer, of course). This is a truly shocking and game changing moment that, for any other film, would’ve happened near the end of the third act, but not here: Golden Circle raised the stakes, hoping we wouldn’t call its bluff. Sadly, the film went on, and a sad sense of déjà vu washed over. There was another bar fight scene, a completely outrageous introduction to our villain with an equally outrageous hideout with a metallically limbed henchman/woman complete with a high profile celebrity held hostage. First it was Princess Tilde of Sweden, now it’s Elton John. That’s right: the original, unironic Rocket Man himself. I can literally make an entire article about his involvement in the film, and maybe I will, if I find myself that smug. Nevertheless, Golden Circle proved itself to be little more than a slight upgrade from the original, like a new, post-Steve Jobs iPhone*. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t rewatch this film, quite the opposite. I believe The Golden Circle to be a sequel that actually tried to be different and unique, but ended up falling into those old, familiar genre tropes that they love to make fun of. The abundance of potential from its story and the filmmakers crafting said story heightened my expectations and excitement, only to make the final product all too sad to witness. It’s like watching Messi not grace us with his magic. We’ve seen the magician wave his wand, now we expect nothing less. Golden Circle follows its initial instinct to go bigger, grander, more elaborate with its technology, with is the prime issue with sequels as a whole. It is horrendously tempting to repeat the same formula that proved to be a success. If I wanted to watch the first film, I’d watch the first film. Sequels are far too aware of what’s come before and cower from telling new, organic stories that progress the narrative at large, in fear of not being successful as the first one. Age of Ultron fell into familiarity, along with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, not to mention the latter’s relentless insistence in having a punchline to end almost every single scene.
Guardians tangent aside, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is something of an anomaly to me. As said before, it shoots for the stars reached from what came before and hopes that it will reach said heights with a different coat of paint. It doesn’t work, sadly. This film is a case study of how a sequel fails to innovate or excite, apart from its first act. Long forgotten are the days where a sequel was initially taboo, challenging the writers and directors to craft a new, original tail of familiar characters that would challenge the audience and characters alike. Christopher Nolan did it in 2008 with one film. It is now sadly apparent why Matthew Vaughn didn’t return to direct the sequels to Kick-Ass or X-Men: First Class.
*on a side note, I should be getting my iPhone 8+ in the mail tomorrow morning, so how’s that for practicing what you preach?