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KINGSMAN: GOLDEN CIRCLE: Ceaseless circle of violence

Irrespective of culture, country, text and context, most movies mirror sequential unfolding of socio-politico-cultural processes of the times people live in and when were made. Consider just one example – comical feats enacted by great Charlie Chaplin in silent film era reflected the need to laugh at tough depressive times of the Great Depression, By filmonalyst and senior IAS officer Sushil Kumar.

Similarly, post-independence romanticism in rebuilding an ideal India rubbed on the roles of Rajesh Khanna, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand up to seventies; that was replaced by revolting angry young man Amitabh who in turn was replaced by metro men Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman.

Like experience with most films, no matter how banal and meaningless Kingsman sequel may seem, after initial impressionistic perceptions, it still has semblance with current sense and sensibilities and says something about the life and times we live in in parts, if not in whole. Of course, it’s in overall package or appeal that film may appear to fall short of expectations.
Though the title may appear banal at first, it encapsulates the essential essence of the film; it has Kingsman (owing loyalty to the King or established order) protecting the king’s world on one side and the Golden Circle signifying a charmed circle of villains on the other and the entire film is depiction of a raging conflict between both.

Let’s look closely at the film. It is a superb specimen of technical wizardry that has come to define modern Hollywood films. It is a screen spectacle of visual images shot in such speedy succession, as if, to appear to match speedier action sequences sans any cessation. The racy pace is set from first frames itself, beginning with car chases, crashes and collisions that only end in in metalmeat of one and mincemeat of another -both literally and figuratively- at the end of the movie as if the First Act mimicking the Last Act of a play. And as if in acoustic accompaniment to bombarding of images, one has high decibel eardrums testing sound waves entering to stall mental waves, giving only two belief options: either stay enthralled at the sheer audacity to make one live in that make believe world for 140 minutes or not believe and suffer the shock that someone actually thought one could actually suspend one’s thought for so long and stay.

As stated, if analyzed alone as pure visual experience, it indeed may come across as a senso- numbing mindless mayhem mounted by men with no meaning or message. Yet, observed objectively as an overall package, the film comes across as a wonderful attempt to create a big collage; that contains numerous strands taken of successful plots/scenes/ scripts/storylines/ stars/ story telling styles/ stunts and action sequences shot with VFX/CGI and techno gadget superiority demonstrated by Hollywood and European films.
What is the explanation for this attempt to fuse so many elements? We all know that film making costs money and all film makers must recover money if inclined make more and earn livelihood. If not, we can have great film makers like Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani who hit roadblock sooner than later and fade away after making some films. As for Kingsman and James Bond type of films that cost huge amounts of money, any film maker would go only so far as that spectator is not shocked with too much novelty in both story and execution and also attempt temporarily transport into a world of make believe.

The director Matthew Vaughn aims to bombard at both levels of experience: on screen, the characters are fully busy in nonstop action with bullet and ballistic bombardment thrown in liberal measure; at experiential level, the audience is also bombarded with so much simultaneous occurring sensory perception that leaves no time to pause to ponder. This couple of hours of bombardment at both levels leaves the spectator thankful that what all one saw was a screen reality only.

If considered as a collage, the film’s complexities could be comprehended at many levels ; like similarities with scripts/story lines of previous films, depiction of applied technologies, cultural motifs, contours of future living, targeted audience, aim for commercial success or critical acclaim, reasons for star studded cast etc. The overt or covert presence of these elements need to be understood with allusions to direct or indirect meanings, metaphors and allegories.

Let us consider the elements at story line and plot level: Not novel at all, the film is admittedly a screen depiction of a comic book character; thus, is part of continuum of a protracted process that began with Superman/Star Wars in seventies, becoming pronounced with onset of CGI and acoustic technology in later part of last century. This led to an unprecedented boom in making movies of Marvel comic characters like Spider-Man Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Doctor Strange, Wolverine, Deadpool etc. In one way, comic book characters are endowed with superman, superhero/ic powers to immediately re/solve the social or civilizational or even cosmic problems. Kingsman The Golden Circle has real life characters who can do heroic acts against anti-hero to save the world.

It’s not only technological innovations that alone led making of comic book superhero films. The generation growing up on gaming consoles got addicted to playing protagonist that could pummel all opposition in combat, be it sports or war in a detached/distanced manner. Film makers can’t faulted for making films for people given to believing reality, howsoever temporarily, of comic characters. Moreover, super heroic acts seen on paper pages or small screens of smartphones or video screens still don’t seem that real when compared to their creation on big screens- specially now with all the technology at command. One can say that market research teams of movie Moghuls made great discovery in finding out a nascent market amongst comic book lovers; thank god, the comic book characters are available by the dozens and film makers learn fast in making sequels of successful films and leaving those bombing at box office. And on top, one could combine the characters, events and acts endlessly for easy instalments. Kingsman is a fine example of this process.

When experienced on paper or small screens, these marvel comic characters are absorbed as real due to stand alone individual level of experiences but when done on big screen their believability increases tremendously. However, when done on screen, there would always be creeping doubt due to proximity of someone watching same heroic acts right next to you or periodic realization of others’ presence due to hahas and hoons of others in a hall. The virtual reality mask that completely isolates individual experience will solve this issue in future. The next stage would be isolating individual with separate mask in hall to heighten sensory experience without worries of presence of next seat’s viewer. It is already being done for short experience with individual mask-screen and will soon transition to bigger screens much like 3D experience did decades earlier.

It is at the technology level, that film is a continuum of three decades’ technological accretive process that has been progressively establishing the cutting edge superiority of Hollywood sci-fi and Marvel comic character movies. In that sense, Kingsman is a huge collage that permits a preview of several strands that could be strung together in similar movies. Hollywood has now mastered two decade old CGI technology that can create virtual visual reality on screen as a virtual mirror image. In other words, at one level, CGI can comprehensively create virtual reality depicting visual reality virtually indistinguishable with real objects in existence. And at the other, it can also inhabit and infuse that artificial reality with real life/ living of/by real people and objects. This combination gives great creativity and caters to growing clientele growing up on gaming life of modern times. Bollywood embarked on a similar journey by making Bahubali . The film became the biggest money grosser and made worldwide news life never before.

Looked closely, the film mirrors the impending technological revolution coming this century in people’s lives. The film slides in glimpses of how artificial intelligence and robotics will dominate the real world and living; it shows a killer lady robot shooting away on command, two computerized mechanical dogs making mincemeat or mincemetal through mechanized motion of multiple metallic teeth. Unlike previous films involving so much action that could be mounted by multitudinous henchmen, the lady don in her den virtually works alone excepting guards at front door who predictably fail to guard her. She and her side kick baddie also rely on tablet type screen to remote control shaking and spinning the circular cable car. In other words, the film is a pointer to potential cyber wars as well as commanding/ controlling attack and defence through computers.

The film also displays numerous other technological applications: we have small missiles and smart bombs piercing houses with precision and blowing them into smithereens; the drones in dozens delivering antidote, customized prosthetic metallic arm that can tear one apart and extend to grab the jugular. Of course, there are computerized databases that can be accessed through a severed metallic arm.
Much in the same way, post WW II movies used to depict many motifs that were to change lives later. These included coming of cars, white collar jobs, fridges, TVs, air conditioning, urbanization, women rights etc. These developments defined the world till the end of last century when ICT technologies began changing the world again. Film depicts the potential and risks of biotechnology and ICT in this century. The disease cum death risks of viruses and their manipulation for instilling fear is an age old motif of movies that is repeated in the film. Latest example of medical marvel of keeping one alive despite being brain dead is shown in bringing back dead Colin Firth and another protagonist. This is a reminder of efforts to keep Michael Schumacher alive after being brain dead – much like new spinal research interventions kept Christopher Reeve alive for several years. Film also shows foot pressure frozen on landmine for few seconds for a persons’ switchover.

Film makes no pretense or tall claims for originality or novelty in storyline or using newer technologies in filming. It is an open acknowledgement of sorts of what makes money for movies at box office would be repeated and higher the gain, higher the gears of production each successive time. If we look at overall package of Kingsman, the film offers nothing new and follows the usual pattern of repeating most motifs of mega hits including its earlier instalment.

One can say, Kingsman –the Golden Circle comes across as brave effort in putting up a big collage. It is comparable to collecting all exquisite wines and putting them all in a heady mixture in a new attractive bottle to allure. Now, let’s consider some elements: film’s imagery is suffused with similar shots /scenes/sequences of so many box office hits that it’s difficult to count them all. At fundamental level, Kingsman is basically another example of replicating success film formula of time tested espionage/spy story with comic overtones, abetted and aided with technological marvels available to characters on screen and to film maker outside. It treads the trusted paths of combining them both and borrows several successful motifs of past movies. Primarily, it feels like deja vu viewing of James Bond reincarnate, an iconic British spy, reborn in new avatar after six decades but now sharing screen space and responsibilities with several characters to save the world. After all, the world has got far more complicated after half century and a lone effort wouldn’t be sufficient.
And if the film’s inspiration and leitmotif remains Mr. Bond, it inevitably ends up integrating innumerable elements of his films. Consider countless Bond villains’ ambitions to dominate or destroy the world that got saved at last seconds; this film also has a villain (lady in keeping with demands of gender equity of present times) threatening to similarly destroy the world with disease and wanting ransom (virtually all Bond films from Dr. No, Goldfinger till Spectre have this theme). Kingsman’s liberal borrowing and mutating many Bond’s motifs include a renegade MI 5 agent ( Skyfall), ferocious Dobermans/dogs with pinched ears (robotic ones as technology upgrade), cable car fights (though remote controlled here), high speed car chases with liberal display of gadgets and armoury ( last famous chase seen in Spectre), doors opening to hidden evil empire or crime dens ( nearly all films), the branding or tattoo or ring to indicate rites de passage to join a gang ; melting gold ( from Goldfinger), amphibious car escapades of Bond and ubiquitous water drowning ( many Bond movies).
The metallic arm including severance while chasing and car crashes/crushes is a straight take away of James Cameron’s Terminator vintage. The seemingly ceaseless fight sequences alternating between superfast, slow and super slo motion depiction is also of Matrix fame – again with an upgrade with frames filled not only by fist fights, punches, kicks but with American Cowboy shooting and choking/cutting with with cowboy’s whips/ traps. The blood gushing, not oozing is similar to Kill Bill series. There is another upgrade – the nonstop mindless shooting spree madness is now accompanied by Metallica type hard rock song included more as a diversionary tactic than as a related commentary or description. One wonders whether the song is included to make sound bursts of guns and explosions sound musical or not. The riddling of log hut with bullets to make light fall out from each hole is also typical Tarantino style of shot making of shootouts. The use of umbrella as screen shield is similar to screen displayed for deception in the Mission Impossible. Film has incorporated slo mo slinging of cowboy rope knots that even slice the body into two, sans body shivers, as well as shooting with every possible body contortion. Interestingly, the film replicates confinement in iron cells of people infected with virus similar to similar confinement of apes in last instalment of Planet of Apes movie. Like Austin Powers experimented with showing human excreta for humour this film uses cannibalism to show loyalty but this brings more revulsion and one can feels audience let out a collective breath as reprieve to spare them from such scenes.

Assessed at aspirational level, it’s a re-claiming of typical British iconic spy hero born to save the world; it earlier taken to Hollywood and mutated and got reborn in numerous avatars in films like Mission Impossible, Bourne, XXX series. But bringing Bond back has meant an update i.e. adding more comic turns and dialogues than earlier understated wry humour and profusion of technological aids used both by the protagonist and the picture maker to puff the overall package. And the spy spews venom and exclamation by liberal spraying of four letter expletive. The film has borrowed comic motif of Austin Power series; one can say that it has sought to fuse serious business approach of Bond spy movies with equally popular comic antics of another British character known as Mr. Beans. In fact, one can clearly see the influence of Guy Ritchie style of film making specially in the blazing bullets, explosions, shattering of walls and liberal use of expletives (Four Weddings and a Funeral and Snatch). In true Bond espionage type films, Kingsman does have villain threatening American President for withdrawing war on drugs campaign but interestingly ends up making President turn negative and finally leading to impeachment- an interesting imputation to the present times.

Like films of similar genre (Avenger, Transformer series), the weaknesses of story and plot lines are sought to be made by mind- numbing sound and fury to match fury of fist fights, ballistic sounds of bullets and explosions. The bombardment of visuals on screens and with high decibel sounds on ears achieves the desired purpose – permitting only partaking of pictures and these two don’t allow a chain of thought to develop. The acoustics of hard rock songs is a topping as if sound mixing even at high decibels were not enough; let’s say these add an entertainment quotient to mindless blood curdling violence and mindless bloodletting on screen. In a way, the movie is an extension of video games played on smartphones but with enhanced sound effects for effect. It is also an indication as to how the present generation thinks that violence can be inflicted without repulsion.

Seems that all makers of super star studded film instinctively know the shortage of substance in film and want to make that up with infusion of super stars. This film is no exception. One needs to see the roles of Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore to understand and wonder whether they needed the money or were these the only offers coming their way. Possible explanation could be the success of the prequel and the inclination of stars to remain shining on horizon if not in main galaxy.
Seems like some looks never fade away from Hollywood films. James Dean school boy charming looks were reborn in Tom Cruise. Now Taron Egerton’s appeal lies in having those looks . One would like to know what pay-packet Jeff Bridges received to just walk few steps in his brewery mansion while brewing strategies that required no thinking. Similarly, for diversity demonstration Halle Berry appears to utter few medical advisories and wear a constant look of surprise despite deciphering novel medical theories and discoveries. Channing Tatum despite showing promise in initial scenes goes into a limbo only to reappear in last frames in …you guessed it !! with a Bowler, not a cowboy hat, that too in London. Keep guessing till the next instalment appear.

Like all films that seek to create far too an artificial reality, the film maker inadvertently overlooks one small detail. It shuns use of soft focus in close up shots to capture evilness of Julian Moore but instead of enhancing that, the effort ends up depicting her deep wrinkles, over pronounced over lips despite massive makeup, making her look like real life character than a character from artificial reality. Same applies while filming some close ups shots of Elton John and villain’s girlfriend. Going by the content and context of the film, would have been far better to airbrush and Photoshop these characters.

One can say that the film seeks to combine two motifs- the formal and conservatism of the British way of life typified by Saville Row suits, bowler hats, umbrella with American functional and utilitarian lifestyle typified by jeans, cowboy hats, limited lingo and love for a fist fight. Audience though may wonder how one can fight with tight fitted Saville Row suits and how one ducks the four letter expletive word liberally falling away from the protagonist. One can say commerce combines the long lost country cousins like nothing else and Kingman film is a superb specimen of symbolisms of UK and USA coming together in a symbiotic socio-cultural storyline. The film makers want to create a new movie franchise whose cultural appeal cuts across both UK and USA and unifies two close country cousins separated by continent. What better than combine British motifs of espionage, Saville Row suits, single Malt whiskeys with cowboy guns and knots and further cemented through shared language, music, technologies and other ideal types (Max Weber)

The film has far too stylized fight sequences bordering ballet like movements with a difference – bad guys going ballistic with bullets and blazing guns. After all, without the fight sequences and combat, there isn’t much in these movies. Films of this genre also reveal a beautiful contradiction: to make up for weak story line or plots, films must use fast pace and fast paced action scenes but at places even latter need to be slowed down using slow mo (quantum jump in their filming since Matrix movies). In other words, typical of our times, audience want fast action in slo mo, so that at least some impressions linger in memory.
In Indian context, similar effort was mounted in Saif Ali Khan’s Agent Vinod but that effort failed.

The plethora of such movies shouldn’t surprise as the generation brought up on X box and computer games find easy identification with such films. In fact, due to their constant wish to live in such virtual word, the entire gaming industry has also grown. The generation not only wants to continue the play way method throughout their lives including work places(Google).

One can’t say that the stunts are superb as these have become the benchmark of films made of marvel comic characters. After all their super man or superhuman qualities can’t be depicted ordinarily.

Lastly, the recent mowing down of 58 people in Las Vegas by a machine gun fire is a stark reminder that if an individual mixes the video gaming reality with actual reality, there could only be one end – blood, gore and death. And one doesn’t want to incite a debate whether life imitates movies or vice versa.
Summing up one can say that the Kingsman – The Golden Circle will not make into the charmed circle of golden movies- at least in and for history.

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