i catch myself watching the original Kingsman on TV now with more pleasure than I remember upon the first viewing. I re-see the odd snippet and it seems elegant, fun, attractive. Watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle reminds me that this partial re-viewing is also a partial forgetting: the sexism, the crude anal jokes with the captive princess etc. But nothing about the first film prepared me for how crude, manipulative and exploitative this sequel is. Cynical too, not only in the relentless product placement but in the lassoing in of American stars to pave the way for the success the original didn’t quite achieve there. Thus we see snippets of Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and what what has until now been my favourite presence in the US audiovisual landscape, Pedro Pascal (probably best known from Narcos), none of them except for the latter offered much of a character or even a chance to shine. How much money do these movie stars need anyway? And if the filmmakers brought them in to make the shit shine, they failed. Julianne Moore is the only star who makes anything of the part played. And Elton John — who deserves a medal for being so open and game — is the only one the filmmakers succeed in getting some good jokes out of. If the idea behind casting these stars was so that the movie could sell better in the States, then the film is not only cynical but stupid. You can’t cast all the Americans as villains, secondary characters or merely inept and have that be your anchor in their market. But here we are, talking about audiences, markets, stars, what might sell. Yet, one look at how the action scenes are filmed — all so CGI that any human skill, effort, danger, and grace evades one’s consciousness — and the crass ineptitude of the whole project is visible to all. It’s like all the marketing and selling opportunities have been given way more thought than story, characters, and the staging of exciting adventure with slinky gadgets etc, ie. all that we want out of a movie like this. They’ve thought so much about the selling that they forgot to come up with something anyone would want to buy. They should all be ashamed of themselves.
A note on the much maligned The Great Wall, which I saw on the weekend: there is no characterisation to speak of, the plot is merely a serviceable monster story, and the theme would please China’s governing central committee. But…It is from the director of Ju Dou, (1990) and Hero (2002) and The House of Flying Daggers (2004), and Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). It has the most astonishingly beautiful use of colour I’ve seen in recent cinema. Yang and cinematographers Stuart Dreyburgh and Xiaoding Zhao, plus the set and design people, have created colours so beautiful and so rarely seen in cinema, and then the way they put those colours together in a frame, make them work alongside each other not only to keep the eye on the action but also to please it, is quite exceptional. There’s a scene in a tower in the last great set-piece where the imperial palace is over-run by monsters, the tower is slowly falling apart, and every colour if the rainbow seems to break through — orchestrated and choreographed — in an extraordinary cacophony of colour that is just breathtakingly beautiful: how could so much be arranged to rest so easy and simply on the eye? This use of colour is conveyed in gorgeous compositions and truly inventive use of camera. Visually, the film is like a Renaissance Masterpiece. As usual with Zhang, the acrobatics are wonderful to watch and there are scenes with women warriors diving into a sea of monsters with spears that is just dazzling to see. And though the characters are archetypes and not fully fleshed out, Andy Lau and Willelm Dafoe and Tian Jing are still worth looking at — if for different reasons — and Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal have great chemistry. It’s out now and if cinephiles aren’t bothered to see it on a big screen they’re not worthy of the name.