Monday, October 16, 2017

The Flash Season 4, Episode 1: The Flash Reborn

The Flash is back for its fourth season. Four seasons already! Seems like just yesterday I started watching this show and getting frustrated by it.

As season premieres go, this one was a bit lacking. It dealt with the big season-ending cliffhanger from Finish Line in the least interesting and most offhanded way possible, which made for less than compelling viewing.

To refresh your memory, at the end of last season, Team Flash managed to prevent Savitar from killing Iris. Barry and Iris finally got back together and planned to marry. Then literally out of nowhere, the Speed Force began attacking Central City. Barry then volunteered to enter the Speed Force in order to calm it down, for no reason other than because the writers needed an emotional cliffhanger to end the season.

I assumed we'd then get at least one "Flash-less" episode before Barry returned, to show us how the rest of the cast was dealing with his absence. I thought they might even wait two or three episodes before he returned, showing up just when Central City was at its lowest.

Nope! We got maybe ten minutes of Team Not Flash before Barry returns.

Why the big hurry? Why needlessly rush his return? Wouldn't it have been much better if we'd gotten an entire episode without Barry? Then maybe an entire episode where he tries to regain his memory? Instead his return and restoration all happens in the space of about fifteen minutes, making me wonder why the hell they bothered with this Speed Force storyline in the first place.

It's almost like the creators realized they'd written themselves into a corner with this Speed Force storyline, and wanted to dispose of it as quickly as possible. Even worse, once Barry returns, his ordeal affects him for all of about fifteen minutes before he's completely back to normal, as if nothing happened. The whole thing just felt cheap and unearned.

There's one small ray of hope here— maybe there's more going on here that we think. Maybe Barry was affected by the Speed Force more than he's letting on. Maybe he's really not even Barry (GASP!).

On the plus side, the writers really stepped up with Iris in this episode, and it was great to see her finally have something to do. This was a nice change from last year, where she pretty much spent the entire season standing around and wringing her hands as she waited for her predestined Death Day to arrive. Hopefully she'll continue commanding Team Flash from STAR Labs. She did end up playing Damsel In Distress before the episode was done, but at least she CHOSE to put herself in danger this time, to help spur Barry's recovery.

One reason I hoped they'd keep Barry inside the Speed Force longer was so Wally West, aka Kid Flash, could step up and finally have something to do on the show. The brief scenes of him and Team Not Flash working together to save the city were a lot of fun and very well done. Alas, they were also all too brief, as the writers just couldn't wait to bring Barry back and shove Wally to the side again. Which makes me ask— what the hell is Wally's purpose on this show? Why'd they turn him into Kid Flash in the first place? So they could constantly remind us that Wally's not as good as Barry? 

In recent interviews, executive producer Andrew Kreisberg promised that Season 4 of The Flash would bring back the lighter tone of the early episodes. That's great if true, but... color me skeptical. I've heard promises like that before.

If nothing else, at least we're not getting another speedster villain this year! Woohoo!


The Plot:
Wally, Cisco and Joe are chasing metahuman criminal Peek-a-Boo across Central City. They're led by Iris, who's coordinating their movements from inside STAR Labs. The four of them now make up Team Not Flash, formed to protect the city now that Barry's lost inside the Speed Force.

Peek-a-Boo uses her powers to teleport across rooftops to escape. Wally and Cisco manage to capture her, but she wriggles free and points a gun at them. She's then stunned by Joe, who's wielding a piece of STAR Labs tech. The three congratulate themselves on their teamwork, but Iris, who's now humorless and drive after Barry's disappearance, isn't impressed. Cisco says it'd be easier of they weren't a man down.

At the West home, Joe tells Iris that his gal pal Cecile is moving in. Cecile says now that Julian's abruptly fled the show and Barry's disappeared, she's going to have to hire a CSI replacement at the Central City Police Department. This depresses Iris.

Suddenly there's a disturbance, and Team Not Flash springs into action. Wally and Cisco confront an armored, masked samurai warrior, who demands the "real" Flash come out and face him. Wally speaks to him in Japanese (!), saying that's not gonna happen. The Samurai says they have one day to produce the Flash, or he'll destroy Central City. Just to prove he's not kidding, he stabs his sword into the pavement, producing a massive energy wave that flings the surrounding vehicles several hundred feet.

Back at STAR, Cisco says he's been working on a way to bring Barry back. For some reason Iris forbids him from messing with the Speed Force, saying they need to figure out a way to deal with the Samurai. Cisco ignores her and tracks down Caitlin, who's working in the Alien Bar from Supergirl, er, I mean a seedy dive bar. She says she's no longer Killer Frost, and reluctantly agrees to help rescue Barry.

The next day Cisco sets up his equipment on the abandoned (I hope) runway where they first tested Barry's speed back in the pilot episode. Wally, Joe and Caitlin— but not Iris— are there as well. Cisco launches into a lengthy technobabble explanation of how he plans to rescue Barry. He's using a Quark Sphere (whatever that is) to imitate Barry's life signs and fool the Speed Force into thinking he's still in it. Comic Book Science! He'll then use the Speed Force cannon from last season to pull him back into the real world.

Cisco fires up the machinery, opens a portal and fires the cannon, but it doesn't work. Cue sad trombone. Just then Iris shows up, furious that Cisco went behind her back.

Later that day a wormhole opens in downtown Central City, and a familiar lightning-covered figure exits and zooms off. Hundreds of miles away in Ivy City (wherever that is), the figure stops in the middle of the road. It's Barry Allen, naked and sporting an embarrassingly scraggly beard. As a truck approaches, he collapses in the road.

Barry's taken to the CCPD (just how he got there is none of our business), and Cecile calls Joe and says to come pick him up. Joe, Iris and the others arrive, and see Barry sitting in holding cell he intently draws strange symbols all over the walls. When they try to talk to him, he responds with a string of rhyming gibberish. They take him back to STAR, where Caitlin examines him. She says physically he's super fit, but mentally... oy. She has two theories— he may be suffering from schizophasia, or else he was inside the timey-wimey Speed Force for the equivalent of thousands of years and is suffering from dementia.

Cisco shows Barry a new costume he made for him for some reason, hoping that'll rouse Barry from his incoherent state. Iris tries talking to Barry, and suddenly his eyes glow and he starts zipping uncontrollably around Star Labs. Caitlin finally KO's him with a freeze gun, and ironically not with her Killer Frost powers (!).

Just then the Samurai shows up on the street, looking for Barry again. Wally dons Barry's Flash costume and tries to fool the Samurai. He's too smart for that and promptly stabs Wally through the shin, once again demanding to see the real Flash.

Back at STAR Labs, Cisco analyzes Barry's alien symbols, and figures out they're a language (which seemed pretty obvious to me). He translates them and says they mean "This house is bitchin." Um... what? Joe tells Iris that he's been going to church lately, and has faith that Barry will be OK.

Later on the Samurai shows up again, and is surrounded by Joe and the CCPD. Suddenly Iris appears and gives herself up to the villain. When the Samurai asks what the heck she's doing, she says if he takes her, Barry will come for him, which is what he wants. The Samurai then flies off with her, much to Joe's chagrin.

Joe rushes back to STAR Labs and tells the still-babbling Barry that Iris has been abducted. For some reason, the second Barry hears Iris' name he stops his babbling. His eyes glow again and he breaks out of the Secret Super Jail cell, grabs his new costume and runs off. He catches up to the Samurai, who's flying through the air with Iris in tow. The Samurai flies through a wind farm, blasting several of the enormous windmills and causing them to topple over toward Barry. He runs up one of the windmills and is able to grab Iris. A second later one of the blades hits the Samurai, knocking him to the ground. Barry removes the comatose Samurai's mask, revealing it's really a robot. Or a Samuroid, as Cisco calls it.

Back at STAR, Caitlin examines Barry again, who says he feels like he's been reborn (boy, DC lovvvvves itself some Christ metaphors, don't they?). He's also now much faster than ever. No one brings up the possibility that he might not actually be the real Barry.

Cisco asks Caitlin if she's back for good, and she says yes. She returns to the bar to give her two week notice or something. Her boss doesn't take it well and grabs her arm. Caitlin slowly turns into Killer Frost and tells him to move his hand or lose it. She stumbles out of the bar, and painfully regains control of herself, turning back into Caitlin.

Cut to a mysterious lab, where a woman called the Mechanic stares at the remains of the Samuroid. She approaches the Thinker, a man seemingly built into a futuristic chair, and asks him what's next. He turns and says, "I'm thinking." Com-O-Dee!

• Peek-a-Boo first appeared in the Season 1 episode Crazy For You, where she was captured and tossed into Well's Secret Super Jail. So... does that means she's been sitting in that cell for the past three years, without benefit of a trial? 

Shh... we're not supposed to think about stuff like that.

• When Peek-a-Boo's trying to escape from Team Not Flash, she teleports across the rooftops of Central City's skyscrapers. Wally follows on foot, and at one point jumps from the roof of one tall building and lands on the top of another, several hundred feet below.

So how's Wally falling all that distance without splattering all over the rooftop? He has superspeed. That ain't gonna protect him from a five hundred foot fall. Fast doesn't mean invulnerable. Is he somehow vibrating his body to slow it down or absorb the impact or some other pseudo-scientific hooey?

• Iris tells Cisco that Peek-a-Boo's gonna land on the Broome Tower. It's been mentioned on the show before, and once again I assume it's a shoutout to John Broome, who wrote many a Silver Age Flash comic back in the day.

• Team Not Flash seems like an effective and pretty well-oiled machine. So why haven't they been working together this all along, even when Barry was around? Yeah, yeah, in the past Cisco would occasionally bark directions to Barry over his comm, but that was about the extent of their teamwork. Why has Barry always done everything by himself up to this point? Why not take advantage of his superpowered co-workers?

• Since Iris is now in command of Team Not Flash full time, I guess that means she no longer worked for the Central City Picture News? Or is she somehow still finding time to write articles in between coordinating the Team?

• I kept thinking Cisco's new Vibe jacket looked familiar somehow, but couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me where I'd seen it before.

• Welp, so much for Tom Felton as Julian, who apparently moved back to London between seasons. Just when I was starting to like him too.

• At one point Cisco says, "I've consulted with Harry and and Tina and Tracy and Felicity and Curtis, and I'm pretty sure I figured out a way to stabilize the Speed Force Prison and free Barry without unleashing another lightning storm on the city."

If you've not up on your Arrowverse lore, he just named all the brainiacs/tech gurus on the various series.

Harry's obviously the Earth-2 Harrison Wells, and I assume Tina is Dr. Tina McGee, of Mercury Labs. Tracy is likely Tracy Brand, who became an honorary member of Team Flash last season, but unceremoniously disappeared this year. Felicity is Felicity Smoak, Cisco's equivalent over on Arrow. And Curtis is Curtis Holt, another Arrow tech guru who later became the superhero Mr. Terrific.

• This is some hardcore nitpicking, but whatever. When Cisco's trying to bring Barry out of the Speed Force, he says, "In the spirit of bringing back old friends, may I present the Speed Force bazooka. Ah, I made a few slight modifications, as Captain Solo would say." 

Wrong! When Han talks about the Millennium Falcon, he says, "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. I've made a lot of special modifications myself."

Told you it was hardcore! As a card-carrying nerd, Cisco should know this.

• The Flash has always excelled in nonsensical Comic Book Science, but they outdid themselves in this episode. For some reason, there always needs to be a speedster living inside the Speed Force, or else it'll start unleashing powerful forces that'll destroy the Earth. At the end of last season, Barry willingly entered the Speed Force in order to save the planet. Sure, why not?

In this episode, Cisco comes up with a plan to "fool" the Speed Force and save Barry. Here are his exact words:

"Caitlin and I spent all of last night working out some kinks, fine-tuning the Quark Sphere. The Quark Sphere, filled with Barry's unique genetic marker, and programmed to track his specific DNA, using the electrical current of the Speed Force. Once we track Barry and we pull him out, the Quark Sphere will trick the Speed Force into thinking he's still there."

So basically he's coating a softball with Barry's DNA (eww!) and tossing it into the Speed Force, which will somehow make it think he's still inside it. Got it.

That is some amazing "science" there. I hope the writers didn't hurt themselves bending over backwards to come up with that ridiculous solution.

• Iris mentions something about bringing the Mockingbird satellite online. Is that the satellite Cisco bragged about owning to Caitlin?

• When Barry first returns from the Speed Force, he sports what appears to be a fifteen year old's attempt at growing a beard. 

I don't know what really went on behind the scenes, but I have a feeling that when Grant Gustin read the script, he said to the producers, "Hey, how about letting me grow my OWN beard! I know I can do it!" They probably reluctantly said yes, and then he showed up on set with that patchy nightmare on his face. At that point it was too late to shave it off and glue a proper fake beard to his head, so they had to make do with what he'd "grown."

That's my theory, anyway. How else would you explain that raggedy excuse for a beard?

• Barry emerges from the Speed Force and immediately zooms off. He ends up in Ivy City, where he collapses in the middle of the road. 
Um... did they mean Ivy Town here? There's an Ivy Town in the Arrowverse, but no Ivy City as far as I can tell. Professor Stein of the Legends Of Tomorrow went to Ivy Town University, and Oliver Queen and his wife Felicity lived there for a short time. 

Either the writer's flubbed the name, or there are two nearly identically named towns just outside Central City.

• At one point Cecile calls Joe and tells him Barry's in a holding cell at the Central City Police Dept. 

So... how'd Barry get from Ivy to Central City? He had no I.D. on him, since he was naked when he passed out. Maybe the ICPD put his photo on the wire, and a Central City cop recognized him as Barry?

• Once Barry's back, he acts spacey and detached, spouting what appears to be gibberish. Caitlin examines him and says he's suffering from schizophasia, which causes people to assign the wrong definition to words. Turns out schizophasia is a real condition! Kudos to whoever googles medical reference on this show!

• It's been four years since the STAR Labs particle accelerator explosion, and they still haven't fixed the damaged pylon on the building.

• It was interesting to see Caitlin blast Barry with a ray from a freeze gun, when she secretly has those exact same powers!

• Joe decides to shave Barry's embarrassingly wispy beard, hoping that'll somehow fix his scrambled brains. As he does so, he occasionally wipes the razor on a towel slung over his shoulder. A dark blue towel prominently labeled with the STAR Labs logo! 

Apparently this high tech scientific think tank has its own branded towels! That had to be Cisco's idea!

• This week's main villain is the Samuroid, a robotic samurai created by the Thinker to test Barry (I guess?). 

The Samuroid actually appeared in the comics, in The Flash #180 back in 1968. A villain named Baron Katana created an army of robot Samuroids to seek revenge for Japan's defeat in WWII. They had jetpacks, indestructible armor and electrified swords, similar to the one seen in this episode.

• Cisco's little speech about Barry's written symbols make absolutely zero sense to me. 

Cisco: "I'm gonna keep working on this. Unless you have any ideas."
Iris: "Nope, it's all Greek to me."
Cisco: "Great Caesar's Ghost. This analysis is based on a monoalphabetic substitution cipher, but what if it's polyalphabetic? What if it's it's like Greek? Like the symbols are unique alphabet? Excelsior!"

First of all, did anyone NOT think Barry was writing in some unknown language, with its own unique alphabet? What the hell else would he be writing? Hieroglyphics?

Plus, monoalphabetic cipher uses fixed substitution over the entire message, whereas a polyalphabetic cipher uses a number of substitutions at different positions in the message. I don't see how that would pertain to Greek in any way.

Also, I get why he says "Great Caesar's Ghost," but Caesar was Roman, and Cisco's talking about the Greek language. He's also mixing universes here, as "Great Caesar's Ghost" was Perry White's catchphrase over at DC, while Stan Lee was always exclaiming "Excelsior!" at Marvel.

• One last thing about Barry's new language: Somehow, despite the fact that he covers the walls with hundreds and hundreds of DIFFERENT symbols, they all somehow boil down to four words: "This house is bitchin."

I have to assume that message will end up meaning something before the season's over.

• Welp, if nothing else, at least The Mechanic's not wearing a black leather catsuit.

• The Thinker looks interesting, even if he does resemble Rance Howard in this episode.

The Thinker, aka Clifford Devoe, is actually a villain from the comics. He first appeared in All-Flash Comics #12, wayyyy back in 1943 (!). He wore a "thinking cap" (no, really!), which amplified his psionic abilities. He often clashed with the Jay Garrick version of the Flash, as well as the Justice Society.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Cisco: (to Caitlin) "Barry's trying to send us a message. I know it. I mean, he spent all this time in the Speed Force. Maybe now he knows the answers to life, the universe, and everything."
Caitlin: "So you think all this crazy writing is Barry's way of telling us 42?"
(I'd expect Cisco to be a fan of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, but I'm surprised Caitlin's heard of it!)

Caitlin: (examining Barry) "Pupils are equally reactive to light. I mean, your vitals are amazing. You're in perfect health, even for you. I'd like a urine sample, just to confirm, but everything looks great."
Cisco: "Man, you love urine. You love the the testing of urine. The testing of the urine. You know what I meant."

Joe: (to Barry) "How you feeling?"

Barry: "I feel great. Yeah, I feel incredible. I don't know, it feels like I've been reborn."

The Mechanic: "What's our next step?"

The Thinker: "I'm thinking."
(yes, it's corny as hell, but that's why I like it)

Sign Of "Things" To Come!

This past weekend I had my annual viewing of John Carpenter's Halloween. As always, every time I see it, I notice a few things I've not seen before.

First of all, the movie premiered in 1978. That means it's 39 years old this year. THIRTY NINE! How the hell is that even possible? I can remember sitting in the theater watching it first run!

Secondly, as a graphic designer, I'm always aware of fonts and kerning and such. Halloween uses the ITC Serif Gothic Black font. It's not bad, but I think I'd have come up with a hand-made, "scary" looking font instead of just using a store-bought one. 

The kerning (aka spacing between letters) is also a bit off. There's way too much space on either side of the "A" and too much between the two "Es." But other than that it's perfect!

One thing I noticed this time— at one point in the movie, main character and Final Girl Laurie Strode watches TV with Tommy Doyle, the kid she's babysitting.

The movie they're watching on the luxurious 19" picture tube TV is 1951's The Thing From Another World.

Apparently that was an omen, because a few years later (in 1982), Carpenter remade The Thing! Cool!

Friday, October 13, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. It was directed by Matthew Vaughn. 

Goldman and Vaughn previously wrote Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First ClassThe Debt (along with Peter Straughan) and of course 2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service.. 

Goldman wrote The Woman In Black, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children and The Limehouse Golem solo.

Vaughn co-wrote X-Men: Days Of Future Past. He previously directed Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service. Whew! Got all that?

The Kingsman films are very loosely based on the The Secret Service comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Millar was the writer of the Wanted and Kick-Ass comics, both of which became feature films. Gibbons was co-writer and artist of the Watchmen graphic novel, which also got the movie treatment.

The film has a fairly comic book-y cast as well. Jeff Bridges previously starred in Iron Man and R.I.P.D., while Halle Berry was in the various X-Men films as well as Catwoman (!). Mark Strong previously starred in Kick-Ass and Green Lantern. I suppose at this point in our world it's tough to find an actor who hasn't been in a comic book movie.

Did you enjoy the plot of Kingsman: The Secret Service? Then you're in luck, because virtually every element and story beat from the first film is duplicated in The Golden CircleMain character Eggsy's is once again introduced to a whole new world of spies and high tech equipment (in America this time). There're more outlandish fight scenes and ridiculous action setpieces. There's another evil henchmen with a deadly prosthetic limb. And we get yet another campy comic book villain with a plan to take over the entire world by killing everyone in it. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I guess.

Kingsman: The Secret Service paid homage to early James Bond films and their various tropes, subverting them without resorting to outright mocking. Kingsman: The Golden Circle does the same thing, but naturally it can't quite capture the surprises and original tone of the first film.

As these are male-fantasy spy spoofs, it's a given that women need not apply (or at least must stand discreetly in the back, behind the men). Kingsman Agent Roxie is callously obliterated in the opening seconds of the film, while Statesman Agent Ginger Ale is relegated to her lab, never allowed to venture out on field missions. And to top it all off, Eggsy's girlfriend is a literal princess (!), who's given nothing to do but wring her hands and fret about her man, going so far as to turn to drugs to alleviate her stress! 

The only other female character of note is villain Poppy Adams, who wouldn't be out of place on the 1966 Batman TV show. C'mon, writers! I'm by no means a feminist, but even I thought the film's treatment of women as inconsequential props was a bit much.

The first film satirized British culture, skewering both the upper and lower classes. This one sets its sights squarely on the U.S., as Matthew Vaughn offers a warped take on Americans. The Statesmen are all exaggerated, macho cowboy types, and even villain Poppy Adams is a parody of the perfect 1950s TV housewife. I'm sure there must be a message there somewhere, even though I'm not quite sure what it is.

I still think it's odd that Eggsy is the ostensible star of these films, but actor Taron Egerton only gets third billing on the poster. I guess that's better than the NO billing he got on the previous film's poster, despite the fact that it prominently featured his face. Time for a new agent, stat!

The film clocks in at a whopping 141 minutes, but honestly it didn't feel that long. That said, it could stand a bit of trimming, especially the pointless and downright icky Glastonbury scenes.

For some reason the film's struggling here in the States, which surprises me, since the first film was a surprise box office hit. So far it's grossed just $81 million against its $104 million budget. Why the hell it cost that much, I have no idea, as the film didn't look any more spectacular than the first. Maybe Elton John demanded a huge paycheck to show up? It's done much better overseas, where it's made $173 million, for a worldwide total of $255 million. That officially makes it a moderate hit, insuring we'll see Part Three in a couple years.


The Plot:
A year after the events of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy Unwin (played by Taron Egerton) is still working as a secret agent for the Kingsmen. He's now known as Galahad, the title formerly used by the late Harry Hart, his mentor who was killed in the first film. Eggsy's also living with Princess Tilde of Sweden, who he also met at the end of the previous movie.

As Eggsy leaves the Kingsman Tailor Shop (which of course is a front for the secret spy organization), he's ambushed by Charlie Hesketh and his henchmen. Charlie's a failed Kingsman recruit, who lost his arm and vocal chords during the first film. He now has a powerful bionic arm and an electronic voice box. There's a big, outlandish Bond-style car chase, as Eggsy and Charlie battle one another while speeding through the center of London. 

During the chase, Eggsy tears off Charlie's bionic arm (which must not have been attached very well!) and throws him from the car, where he lands in the street. The arm plops unnoticed into the back seat of Eggsy's car. He manages to elude the police and drives into a lake, where there's a secret underwater entrance to a Kingsman base.

Eggsy then rushes to Sweden, where he has an awkward dinner with Tilde and her parents, the King and Queen. While he's out of the country, Charlie's forgotten bionic arm springs to life, hacking into the Kingsman's database and locating all its secret bases. The arm launches a missile strike, destroying every Kingsman base and every agent in England, including Arthur (head of the organization) and Roxy Morton, who trained with Eggsy.

Eggsy returns to London and stands staring at the ruins of the shop, feeling survivor's guilt. He's approached by Merlin (played by Mark Strong), the only other surviving agent. Merlin activates the Doomsday Protocol, which is only to be used in cased of extreme emergency. The Protocol turns out to be a simple bottle of Kentucky bourbon. From this they figure out they need to travel to America.

Eggsy and Merline arrive at the Statesman Bourbon Distillery in Kentucky. After a tense encounter with security, they discover the Statesmen are the American version of the Kingsmen. They have their own massive secret base, funded solely by sales of their bourbon whiskey. 

The two meet with Champagne, aka "Champ" (played by Jeff Bridges) who introduces them to the rest of the crew: agents Tequila (played by Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (played by Pedro Pascal), along with tech whiz Ginger Ale (played by Halle Berry). Yeah, the Statesman agents all have beverage codenames, just like the way the Kingsmen were named after Arthurian characters.

Champ says he has a surprise for the two British agents, and Ginger takes them to a special room where they see Harry, aka Galahad (played by Colin Firth), is somehow still alive. Ginger says that after Richmond Valentine shot and killed Harry in the first film, she and Tequila were alerted to the disturbance and swooped down in a Statesman chopper within seconds. Ginger then administered a newly developed "Alpha Gel" head wound treatment. Amazingly it brought Harry back to life (!), minus his left eye and his memory. Ginger's hopeful Harry's memory will return in time, theorizing that a powerful recollection might jump start it.

Cut to Poppy Land, a bizarre little 1950s-themed community built in the heart of the Cambodian jungle. It's run by Poppy Adams (played by Julianne Moore), head of a nefarious international drug cartel. Poppy seems like a sickeningly sweet Martha Stewart type, but can instantly turn cold, ruthless or psychotic (So she's a normal woman then. IT'S A JOKE, PEOPLE!!!). She calls her organization the Golden Circle (Houston, we have a title!). Her compound houses hundreds of disposable grunts, a pair of deadly robotic dogs, and for some reason, Sir Elton John, who she forces to perform for her.

Back in Kentucky, Eggsy tries to trigger Harry's memories, but fails. Champ tells Eggsy they've been hunting the Golden Circle for years, but can't seem to find Poppy's HQ. He assigns Tequila as his partner, and orders them to find the hidden base. Just then Tequila's covered by a bizarre blue rash and rushed to a stasis pod in the Statesman med bay, where he spends the rest of the film. Champ then assigns Whiskey as Eggsy's new partner.

They learn that Charlie's ex-girlfriend Clara Von Gluckfberg (!) is attending the Glastonbury Festival in England. They fly there and Eggsy flirts with Clara, planting a tracking device in her... um, vagina. No, really! For some reason Eggsy calls Princess Tilde and tells her what he did, swearing it was all in the line of duty. Naturally this upsets her greatly, and she turns to drugs to relieve her pain (um... this is a member of a royal family, we're talking about, right?).

Poppy then takes over the airwaves and broadcasts a message, stating she's laced all her recreational drugs with a deadly toxin. Anyone taking her drugs will develop a blue rash (just like Tequila), followed by paranoia, paralysis and finally death. She claims she has the only antidote, and demonstrates it on Sir Elton John. She delivers an ultimatum to the President of the United States (thankfully played by Bruce Greenwood)— stop the War On Drugs, give her and her cartel full immunity to do whatever they want, and she'll send out a fleet of drones that will spray the antidote over the population.

The President sees this as a golden opportunity to rid America of its drug users. He pretends to go along with Poppy's demands, while secretly rounding up everyone infected with the toxin, intending to just let them die. Problem solved!

Eggsy comes up with a drastic plan to restore Harry's memories. As part of the Kingsman training process, every recruit is given a puppy and later required to shoot it (actually their guns are filled with blanks, to test their resolve). Eggsy brings in a dog that looks like Harry's beloved Mr. Pickle (who died of old age) and threatens to shoot it. The plan works, as Harry's traumatized by the dog and finally remembers who he is. 

The Statesmen use Clara's tracker to locate a factory in Italy that's manufacturing Poppy's antidote. Eggsy, Harry and Whiskey fly there, infiltrate the factory and steal a sample of the antidote. Charlie's inside the factory, and sends an army of Golden Circle henchmen after the agents. Eggsy and the others hide out in a mountain cabin, where they're soon surrounded. During the shootout, the antidote is destroyed. 

While they're pinned down, Harry secretly tells Eggsy he suspects Whiskey's a double agent. Eggsy doesn't believe him, assuming Harry's not quite his old self yet. Harry then brutally shoots Whiskey in the head, killing him. A horrified Eggsy says, "What the hell, man!" and uses the Alpha Gel treatment on Whiskey to bring him back to life. He realizes Harry's still not all there and can't be trusted. To make things even worse, Eggsy gets a call from Tilde, who's now infected with Poppy's toxin. And to top it all off, Charlie blows up the Italian factory, meaning they can't steal any more of the antidote.

Eggsy, Harry and Merlin then secretly follow Charlie to Poppy Land to steal more of the antidote for synthesis. As they're trudging through the jungle, Eggsy steps on a landmine surrounding the compound. Merlin freezes it, then shoves Eggsy off it and stands on it himself. He then creates a diversion by singing a touching rendition of John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads, giving Eggsy and Harry a chance to sneak in. Once they're inside the compound, Merlin sets off the landmine, killing himself and dozens of Poppy's goons.

Inside Poppy Land, Eggsy encounters Charlie and they have an epic battle. Eggsy eventually kills Charlie (until he gets better and comes back in the third film). Harry's attacked by Poppy's robotic dogs, but is saved by the timely intervention of Elton John. 

Eggsy and Harry capture Poppy, along with the briefcase that controls the antidote drones. They demand she hand over the drone access code, but she refuses. Eggsy injects her with the toxin and asks again. She gives them the code and promptly dies, as Eggsy mistakenly gave her too high a dose. Welp, so much for the movie's villain, I guess!

Just as they're about to enter the code, Whiskey somehow shows up and stops them, proving Harry was right about him all along. He reveals he's not working with Poppy as they thought. Instead he's avenging the death of his wife and unborn son, who were killed by drug addicts. The three agents have another big setpiece battle, which ends when Eggsy and Harry throw Whiskey into Poppy's meat grinder. They enter the code and the drones release the toxin, saving millions of lives all over the world, including Tequila and Tilde.

The President is then impeached (oh, if only) for attempting to murder the world's drug "victims." Champ announces he's opening a new distillery in Scotland, which will double as the new Kingsman HQ. He offers Eggsy a job with the Statesmen, telling him he can become the new Whiskey. He politely declines, and Champ gives the title to Ginger Ale. Eggsy marries Princess Tilde, and Tequila moves to London to work for the new Kingsmen.

• After Eggsy manages to lose Charlie, he's desperate to make it to the Kingsman's secret HQ before the cops catch him. Why's he so worried about the cops? Aren't they all on the same side? If he was stopped by them, couldn't he just show 'em his secret agent I.D. card? Are the Kingsman so top secret that not even the government knows they exist, and they want to keep it that way?

• I hated seeing the all the Kingsman agents and HQ blown up at the beginning of the movie, but I get why they did it. Eggy's Pygmalion storyline played itself out in the first film, so there was really nowhere else to go. The only real solution was to blow up everything and start over.

That said, I am royally pissed by the way The Golden Circle brutally and callously kills off Agent Roxy Morton, without a second thought. She was a big part of the first film, and I liked her character a lot. She deserved a better fate.

• As a test of loyalty, Poppy orders a new recruit named Angel to kill an older henchman and stuff his body into her diner's meat grinder. Angel reluctantly does so, and Poppy activates the machine. Pounds of fresh, ground meat then pours from the end of the grinder— but ONLY meat. There're no shreds of clothing or chunks of shoe leather. 

Apparently Poppy's machine has a special feature that somehow removes clothing before grinding up a body.

• Poppy has two robot guard dogs she calls "Bennie" and "Jet." Obviously this is in honor of her captive Elton John, who famously sang Bennie And The Jets.

• In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Harry has an epically awesome shootout inside a bigot-filled Kentucky church. In this film, the Statesmen's secret base is also located in Kentucky, and the agents all act like exaggerated, cartoonish Southerners.

Gosh, do you think director Matthew Vaughn (who was born in London) is trying to say something about Americans in these movies? Does he really believe we're all ignorant, drawling, gun-toting fundamentalists?

• The Golden Circle marks the third time Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore have worked together. They previously starred in The Big Lebowski and Seventh Son.

• Are you a fan of Channing Tatum? Are you looking forward to watching him in The Golden Circle? Eh, not so fast there! For some reason he appears for a few minutes early on, literally sits out the bulk of the movie, and shows up for a few seconds again at the end. His appearance amounts to little more than a cameo. 

The same goes for Jeff Bridges, whose appearance is also a glorified cameo.

• This film marks the third time that Bruce Greenwood has played President. He previously played JFK in Thirteen Days and another fictitious prez in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Ironically, Greenwood is Canadian, so he can never be President in real life.

• Who knew Elton John was an action hero? He stole the show as he beat up a gang of henchmen while clad in an outlandish feathered outfit!

• In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Richmond Valentine shot Harry in the eye at point blank range. He got better thanks to the Statesmen, but he's still missing his left eye.

Does that seem odd? If the Statesmen have the technology to heal a bullet wound to the head (!), how hard could it be to whip up a bionic eye?

• Although I'm glad Harry's back as Galahad, his inevitable resurrection in this film completely undercuts his emotional exit in the first film. See, no one ever really dies in the Kingsman Universe, as they're always effortlessly brought back to life (except when the script says they can't be). 

When characters can be hand-wavingly resurrected with this much ease, then their temporary deaths have no meaning or emotional impact. Dying becomes just a minor inconvenience, no worse than a bad cold.

Fortunately the filmmakers had the good sense not to resurrect Merlin after his emotional death in this film. Hopefully he'll stay dead, and won't pop up somehow in the third film.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the third film in 2017 to feature John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads. The song popped up in Alien: Covenant and in Logan Lucky as well. In addition, the movie Free Fire prominently used Denver's You Fill Up My Senses

I dunno why, but for some reason, 2017 seems to be the year of John Denver!

• Poppy's master plan deserves some scrutiny. She resents the fact that the drugs she peddles are illegal, but cigarettes and alcohol aren't, which forces her to hide out in Cambodia. So she devises a scheme in which she'll lace all her drugs with a toxin that will kill anyone who uses them, unless the President grants her and her people full and permanent immunity.

I get the feeling Poppy hasn't thought this all the way through. What if the President says no to her ultimatum (as he secretly does in the movie)? She'd end up killing off her clientele. Who's gonna buy her illegal drugs when there are no more addicts? Doesn't seem like a very sound business model.

• This film has a VERY mixed message regarding America's War On Drugs and recreational drug use in general, and I'm still not clear on just what it's trying to say. On the one hand, it criticizes anyone (like the movie's President) who dares to speak ill of drug users. But then it turns around and says people shouldn't abuse drugs. 

So which is it, movie? Are drug users sinful and evil, or poor, innocent victims of circumstance?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is, like many sequels, pretty much a remake of its predecessor, but with everything turned up to eleven. It callously kills off several old characters while unsurprisingly resurrecting a major one from the first film. It expands its world a bit, while handily setting up yet a third entry. I enjoyed the first film a lot (going so far as to see it twice in the theater!), but gave it a much too enthusiastic A-. I should have given it a at most. And that's what I'm giving this new one— a solid B.

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