Kingsman sequel: Cowboy humour meets Brit wit in slick spy movie

The slick spy sequel boasts four Oscar winners, handsome costumes as well as director Matthew Vaughn's cool creations

Take the tailored Savile Row suits of a slick James Bond movie. Sieve it through American physical comedy. Pump up the cast list with four Oscar winners (Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth).

Throw in a liberal dose of stylised violence. Dust off the serving with cute, small dogs - and you get two hours and 20 minutes of a gourmet popcorn movie called Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Director Matthew Vaughn's clever-cool take on the British spy franchise based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons' comic book series first made its appearance in 2014 and took a surprising US$420 million (S$565 million). It set up fresh-faced Welsh actor Taron Egerton (Eggsy) against a posh and restrained elder spy played by Firth (handler Harry Hart).

Three years down the road, Vaughn picks up from where he left off with a promised sequel, resurrecting Firth from the dead for a new adventure.

Firth, 57, who says that reports of his death have been exaggerated, proclaims: "Matthew is the expert in this particular business.

"A bit of resurrection is part of the game. It's pretty fashionable now, if you see Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead."

  • Tailored suits, tipple and tech toys

  • As with the first Kingsman film, the new sequel's out-of-this-world budget meant that no expense was spared in terms of the set, costumes and every kid-in-wonderland's wishlist of crazy props.

    TAILOR-MADE BODY SWAG

    The cast not only had their jackets and jeans individually put together by bespoke tailors, but they also had their footwear designed to measure.

    Taron Egerton, who plays Eggsy, says: "Director Matthew Vaughn's vision and tenacity for details are amazing. How many times have we turned up on set and the suit was just not quite the right length... and all filming would stop. He was very specific about how perfect all the fashion had to be. And it paid off."

    Indeed, Vaughn was so fastidious that he created custom-designed belt-buckles for everyone, which doubly functioned as whisky (or tequila) dispensers. Channing Tatum was so enamoured of his buckle that he made it a point to nick one home for his mother, in keeping with his personal tradition of taking a piece of something from the last thing he wore on set.

    TIPPLE (NOT QUITE)

    As far as real alcohol on set was concerned, however, not so much as more than a drop of brown sugary water was spilt.

    Jeff Bridges, who plays the distillery boss, warns of the rookie error of method acting while trying to play an inebriated person: "All these young actors make the mistake, I've made the mistake of getting drunk for a scene. We've all done this before. But then there's Take 2 and you have another drink... and, God help you, you've got another, later scene - and by then, you lose your judgment."

    He will admit to going through the preparatory work of smearing liquor on his cheeks and lips, though. "I can smell it and it gets my sense and memory going. Good for the scene," he says.

    TECH AND TOYS

    Many moviegoers have seen fancy cars-turned- submarines and Kevlar umbrellas, but this Kingsman instalment has a baseball bat hacked for high-tech life-saving, a briefcase-turned-machine gun-turned-shield, plus a traditional burger mincer used in less traditional ways.

    But the super-awesome gadget of the day goes to the lasso, wielded in an electronic death-grip by Pedro Pascal. "I wasn't great at it. But I learnt to get a couple of chairs and pull them towards me," he says. "I was a very good whip cracker. I could whip from different angles. I could do a figure-of-eight and come round from the left. It's not as easy as it looks."

    Tan Shzr Ee

Speaking to reporters at a press event in London, he adds: "The training was harder. I've been through it before. But you don't just pick up where you left off, certainly not at my age. It's like starting from the beginning again."

This time around, the paternal chemistry between Firth and Egerton, 27, is recalled from the first movie, but augmented to also focus on a brotherly vibe between Mark Strong's gadget-guru Merlin, who takes Eggsy to the whisky country of Kentucky after an explosive opening sequence that activates a dramatic change in a London- based game plan.

Enter the Statesman, or a secret service masquerading as a bourbon distillery. Run by a jeans and waistcoat-wearing cowboy called Champagne (Bridges), the organisation boasts its own American dream team of swashbuckling problem kid Tequila (Channing Tatum), wild- card shooter Whisky (Pedro Pascal from Game Of Thrones) and computer geek Ginger Ale (Berry).

As Berry, 51, wryly observes in the film's production notes: "They don't go to the same tailors."

While the first instalment thrived on the culture clash between Egerton's uncouth lout and Firth's polished gentleman, laughs in the second movie are played up through cowboy humour-meets-Brit wit.

One stunning and somewhat bizarre scene has Strong, 54, singing John Denver's classic Country Road to gushing orchestral accompaniment in a tropical rainforest.

Strong, who had to work up his vocal cords for the searing solo, says: "I do get carried away sometimes. That song was a good one to be able to sell."

In fact, the collaboration with American actors was built on deeper, different currents.

Strong says: "We're very different in the way we perform. We're very much more text-based. For us, it's about the lines on the page - it comes from the theatre.

"For Americans, they are fantastic with just being easy... with props. Jeff Bridges just sat down, had a glass, had a drink, did the lines, did all this stuff. And then Take 2, all over again - all this complicated work - they're more gifted at that kind of thing."

The real American trope being showcased for everyone's delectation in this film, however, is the one of America's Sweetheart gone wrong in the form of Moore's drug baroness Poppy, who favours technologically creative and gory contract killings delivered with Martha Stewart's smarm and graciousness.

Moore, 56, says playing this bad-a** character was "fun".

"It felt very free because she's somebody who doesn't have any parameters. She has no constraints in her behaviour. You're never tamping yourself now. She's like, 'Whaaaaat can I do now?' That was really enjoyable. It's almost like being a badly behaved four-year- old in your own room doing what you want to do."

She adds: "Matthew wants the villains to have a real reason to do what they're doing, to almost seem right. I think it's genderless - the idea of having power and authority and being who you want. I like the idea that she wears clothes that she loves. And she has her nails done and she's powerful. She lives the way she wants to."

Moore's turn as a tech-savvy, almost-feminist arch-villain looks set to stir up debate about double standards with regard to drugs access, legality and addiction in an age when the widespread and unrestrained impact of sugar, tobacco and alcohol addiction is also being felt globally.

The movie's plot also fields an apparently prescient interpretation of a naive-but-hardline American president who responds in horrifying cartoonish ingenuity to a national crisis on state-wide camera.

Indeed, cartoon schlock and antics reined in by the occasional British irony and American hard graft seem to be the order of the day for the movie, which attempts to get away with its violence and gore by turning its most disturbing moments into genre parodies of beautiful colour and contrast.

While there is no scene in The Golden Circle to parallel the first instalment's grand finale of a multiple decapitation in a church, there is bloody farce in a burger joint and serious ball-throwing in a bowling alley.

Egerton says: "Sometimes when you read a script, you go, 'Really? Are you sure?' And you see it on the screen and you go, 'Bloody hell, that works.'

"Matthew's brave enough to go a little bit further. But he also knows how to exercise restraint. It's just that the boundaries are probably different from other people's. What makes it this distinctive universe is Matthew's imagination."

With the second instalment of the franchise now completed, talk is that a third instalment - already in the making - will take the franchise into Asia.

Indeed, a villainous minor character hailing from no other than Singapore makes a tantalising appearance, which will surely be followed up in a future sequel.

Tatum, 37, says he has gotten "a little sampling of what's gonna happen in the third... and it's gonna go a lot farther than East. Ain't nobody's ready for what's gonna happen in the third".

• Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in cinemas in Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Kingsman's golden touch'. Print Edition | Subscribe