Dateworthy Double! “Kingsman 2: TGC” & “Battle of the Sexes”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle: YES, if you are into action and escapism over a romance and depth.

Battle of the Sexes: YES. This is an interesting slice of history with all sorts of emotions portrayed well. BE FOREWARNED: It does have a heavily pro-gay angle.


There are two distinctly different kinds of movies opening this weekend for people to consider. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the sequel to the surprise 2015 spy movie hit “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” and offers another helping of wildly inventive action with a fiendish sense of humor to go with a cast of some impressive new stars.

It’s pretty solid fun for those wishing to enjoy an escapist rollercoaster, though it’s not quite as good as its predecessor.

On the other hand, “Battle of the Sexes” brings together  Emma Stone and Steve Carell in a true-life story laced with lots of humor, about the massively popular 1972 tennis showdown between women’s champ Billie Jean King and former men’s champion Bobby Riggs. “Battle” provides plenty of fun fodder for conversation about gender differences and the still-hot issue of equal pay for women.

But be forewarned, “Battle” also spends a lot of its running time on a surprisingly frank depiction of King’s lesbian affair in which she cheated on her husband at the time. While it shows some impressive complexity in revealing how the affair negatively impacted her husband and King’s own torn emotions in an era where gays and lesbians had to be closeted, the movie ultimately takes a very pro-gay stance  that some might find uncomfortable.


“Kingsman” bigger, but not necessarily better

“Kingsman” tries to use the “bigger is better” approach in its trailers that afflicts so  many Hollywood sequels, adding stars Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry to the cast. Unfortunately, while such big talents should have taken this to a higher level, they’re all underused in another example of Hollywood hype.

The fantastic first “Kingsman” set up the adventures of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taran Egerton), a 17-year-old Briton who was recruited to join a secret society of spies called Kingsman by agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who was code-named Galahad.

“Secret” brought an impressive flair to its action sequences, thanks to director Matthew Vaughn, who had honed a unique style that blended humor with hyper-violence in the two “Kick-Ass” superhero movies. The combination of Firth’s middle-aged cool with Egerton’s manically youthful energy played superbly off of Jackson, who seemed to enjoy his role more than any he had in a decade.

Vaughn is back at the helm of “Circle,” co-writing again with Jane Goldman, and this time Eggsy and fellow Kingsman Merlin (Mark Strong) have to help take down a drug kingpin named Poppy (Moore) who wants to consolidate and dominate the planet’s illegal drug trade.

Eggsy and Merlin are the only Kingsman members left after Poppy manages to destroy ten key targets of the agency, and so they follow clues to Kentucky and team up with a secret society of American spies called Statesman.

There, they find that Harry has survived a seemingly fatal attack from the first film but has severe amnesia. When Statesman Agent Tequila (Tatum) is put at risk, they take Harry along to find Poppy and a vaccine to a dangerous drug she concocted – even if Harry is a potential liability.Kingsmen TGC chart


Much of the fun in the first “Kingsman” came from its training sequences, as Eggsy was subjected to a vast array of highly dangerous tests en route to joining the agency. Since he’s not in need of training anymore, “Circle” suffers from the fact that a large part of its middle section has no big action sequences at all, leaving much of the mayhem to the first and last half-hours of its 141-minute running time.

Moore stays mired throughout in Poppy’s remote lair, cackling up a storm but never doing much other than ordering  Charlie — who became her right-hand man after his Kingsman rejection — and her other minions around. Tatum starts out having a blast as Agent Tequila, but is soon incapacitated for much of the movie while Bridges, who plays the head of the Statesman agents, also has hardly anything to do. Berry is basically reduced to Miss Moneypenny-style status, supporting the Statesmen at their base, albeit with a sweetly whimsical charm.

On the plus side, “Circle” features a funny extended celebrity cameo I won’t give away, with a veteran English superstar poking a surprising amount of fun at himself. There’s also a rollicking sequence involving Eggsy and Merlin fleeing an attack onboard an out-control-funicular in the Italian Alps.

Regarding content, “Circle” features a rather large amount of profanity, with about 50 F-words and some other random language throughout. In the context of its action-comedy tone, it’s not particularly shocking, however.

The most potentially offensive element is a sequence in which Eggsy has to implant a tracking device with Charlie’s girlfriend. It is a rather raunchy sequence but brief in the overall spectrum of the film – if you have seen the first film or others in this genre and took risqué humor in stride, you’ll handle this. But if you’re easily offended, take note: it doesn’t involve nudity but is nonetheless pretty extreme.

The final battles devolve into a bunch of hyperactive shootings and explosions that largely lack the wicked charm of the first “Kingsman” movie. But this is still better than most of the action flicks the major studios have released this year and fun enough for those who are fans of the first film and the spy genre, even if unfortunately it’s not quite golden.


“Battle” shows King’s struggle on and off court

For those not put off by its strongly pro-gay angle, “Battle” is perhaps the more traditional date movie, leading off with Billie Jean King (Stone) shown as the unstoppable womens’ tennis champion of the world. However, she and her attorney Gladys Heldman (Silverman) are mad that she is paid far less than the male champions and challenge the pro tennis association leaders to pay equally. When they laugh, King breaks off and forms her own women’s tennis association.

Throughout, the issue of whether she’s a feminist comes up, and King replies her concern is almost solely on equal financial treatment for women athletes. As she nears her women’s association announcement, she meets a hairstylist named Marilyn (Riseborough), who is very seductive as she cuts King’s hair in an extended, sensuously filmed sequence.

Soon, Marilyn is invited on the tour as the women’s hairstylist  since they rely on media appearances, and King and Marilyn begin a lesbian affair. The makeout scenes are surprisingly intense for a PG-13 movie, stronger than most straight couples are portrayed in such situations, and they are shown embarking on this flirtatiously and happily at first.

However, King is torn about the effect on her husband since her feelings have been closeted within a straight marriage. When her husband Larry (Austin Stowell) finds out, he is torn between his emotional devastation and his wish to help her succeed in her cause above all else.

Meanwhile, former mens’ tennis champ Bobby Riggs (Carell), 55, challenges King, a female champ of 29, to play him for a large monetary prize in the hopes of showing that males are superior and colorfully rebuke the burgeoning feminist movement. When he defeats one female champ, he challenges King for a $100,000 winner-take-all prize that she can’t refuse after turning him down for the initial match.

Riggs’ inveterate and humorously portrayed gambling addiction impacts his marriage, and he is contrasted training humorously with King’s serious efforts. Their clashing styles capture the nation’s attention and make for an entertaining series of confrontations.Battle Sexes chart


“Battle” is portraying the real-life affair that King engaged in at the time, but it places a strongly positive viewpoint on the lesbian relationship overall. It impressively adds depth by showing the emotional damage wrought on Larry and the way that Riggs’ gambling affects his own life, and there are some positive elements of forgiveness shown by Larry and reconciliation shown in Riggs’ marriage.

Stone delivers a richly layered performance, mixing strong determination for her cause with her emotional confusion in her personal life while also displaying occasionally strong wit in bantering with Riggs. Carell has a distinctly smaller role for the first half, and brings a healthy dose of colorful humor to the movie before showing an impressive emotional depth as events turn against Riggs later.

Aside from the movie’s focus on the lesbian relationship, this is a very entertaining movie, and it’s a shame that the filmmakers did not choose to focus on the tennis matches and battle of principles more than the affair. There is definitely a lot to talk about here regarding relationships and marriage, though, and that’s more than most movies offer couples these days.

Overall, “Battle” is an extremely well-made movie artistically and its agenda will likely help it become a contender for critics’ honors and the Oscars at the end of the year. However, its extremely positive portrayal of homosexuality detracts from its strengths  for Catholic viewers, and anyone who sees it should take note that its foreplay scenes very intense for the rating.


Kingsman: The Golden Circle: ***

Battle of the Sexes: ****


COMPARISON CHARTS above on scale of 1 to 10:

Romance – Kingsman: 3, Battle: 8 (though it is largely in the context of the lesbian romance and an extramarital affair, Riggs’ marriage is positive)

Laughs – Kingsman 8, Battle 7

Serious Emotions – Kingsman 1, Battle 9

Thrills – Kingsman 8, Battle 4 (the final tennis match is intense, though)