Matthew Vaughn is a delightful director. He has a strong sense of what makes a good story and how to tell it through fun, engaging visuals. I think “X-Men: First Class” was the most successful execution of his style in many ways because by setting itself in the pulpy 1960s it let some of his quirks feel natural and justified. His films outside the 1960s sometimes feel jarring or political in strangely pointed ways.
The first Kingsman, a delightful spy “parody” romp, had elements of this. The second Kingsman has more elements of this, and they’re more noticeable since they’re clearly a pattern of the series at this point. After tackling climate change in the first film, and drug legalisation in the second, what will the potential third tackle? This series coasts off its kinetic visuals, thrilling setpieces, and fun dialogue, but there’s a very patrician sort of politics to the endless justification of unchecked “classy” upper-class agents and the chav they raise up their ranks in a seeming justification of their supposed meritocracy.
In the first film I could buy it all just as smirking parody of James Bond and the like, especially because of the inclusion of clashing elements like the class war revenge fantasy of the explosive ending. The second film feels more muddled in that sense, almost incoherent, and makes me rethink how the first film treated the status quo. The plot and villain of the first film played much better, I think, but the culture clash of America and England as opposed to different English social classes was more amusing to me, and I preferred a lot of the setpieces and aesthetic of this second film. I also enjoyed the more self-aware way the film played with its own mythology, most notably in how it deployed Colin Firth.
The less I dwell on the movie the more I enjoyed its many pleasures, particularly its music, setpieces, and cast (Pedro Pascal is a real highlight, most of the other American additions are fairly wasted), but parts of it are so unrelentingly political that it’s difficult to brook. I don’t mean these necessarily as criticisms though, more as observations – I actually enjoy the bizarre excesses and incomprehensibility of some of Vaughn’s works, it’s a lot more engaging than a lot of his films’ blockbuster peers. This film went bigger and more pointed than the first film and that worked for me. I give it three whiskys, and a bottle of tequila.