Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is out in cinemas, reuniting Taron Egerton and Colin Firth as the smartly-dressed super-spies, Eggsy and Harry Hart. Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Kingsman 2 lampoons the Bond brand while also embracing the silliness of super spies and playing it up with an edgier tone. This applies to the gadgets, the fighting, the drinking, the womanizing, the jet-setting, and of course, the villains.
In The Secret Service, the villain was Samuel L. Jackson's Richmond Valentine - a character with an intense aversion to any and all violence, who dreams of curing climate change by exterminating over half the Earth's population, giving away free SIM cards that transmit a frequency which on his command can send anyone within earshot into a murderous rampage. It's a deliciously mad plan delivered with an equally mad performance from Jackson, parodying the likes of Blofield and Dr. Evil but also blowing huge holes into those stock villain tropes.
Kingsman 2 more or less doubles down on those spy genre devices, presenting another villain with an evil plan to wipe out a large amount of the world's population. Played in a delightful, sugary sweet manner by Julianne Moore, Poppy Adams is the main antagonist for the Kingsmen, but she isn't the only one. In fact, Kingsman 2 is a little stuffed with bad guys - so which is the real villain?
Setting the film's conflict in motion is Edward Holcroft's Charlie, a former Kingsman recruit from the first movie, who has turned his failure into fuel for revenge. He confronts Eggsy outside of the tailor shop, leading to a wild car chase through the streets of London while the two fight in the back of a black cab. Eggsy eventually escapes, but Charlie's cybernetic arm - a replacement for the one lost to Valentine's explosive microchip, which Eggsy removes during their brawl - is able to hack into the Kingsman servers, sending the location of every Kingsman base to Poppy. She then sends missiles to blow up Kingsman headquarters and kills every agent in Britain. Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are spared, but without any allies or resources they're forced to follow the Doomsday protocol, seeking out their American counterparts, the Statesman.
Charlie crops up again throughout the film, serving as their strongest lead in tracking down Poppy's cartel, The Golden Circle. He's a personal antagonist for Eggsy, as he was in the first film - a representative of anyone who doubted Eggsy capable of becoming a Kingsmen agent. But when he takes part in Poppy's plan to overthrow the Kingsmen, he ups the ante, throwing in with drug lords and murderers. It still isn't quite enough for him to stand as Kingsman 2's main villain, being more of Poppy's lackey than anything else, but he takes his vendetta against the Kingsman - and Eggsy in particular - to villainous heights in this film.
Billed as the villain of the picture, Poppy Adams is who the marketing wants audiences to think of when they think of Kingsman 2's villain. She runs an illegal drug ring through which she releases a deadly virus in all of her products, holding a large and diverse portion of Earth's population hostage, asking as ransom that the President of the United States change the country's laws and legalize the drugs she sells. In a similar vein to Valentine's "cure" for climate change, Poppy wants to see an end to America's War on Drugs - an endeavor that many believe has been responsible for more harm than good over the years. Her methods, however, are what plant her firmly on the side of evil. Her motivation, too, her desire to finally be recognized as the successful drug lord also isn't very selfless. Still, the end to which she's striving towards would, in some ways, manage to do some good in the world, easing the stigma on certain drug use and helping to change policy towards addiction treatment rather than incarceration.
Within the film, though, Poppy is very clearly an antagonist for the remaining Kingsman agents, having blown up the entire organization. She's also absolutely merciless to those who would betray her, shown sicking her robot dogs on them or grinding them into hamburger patties. On top of that, she kidnaps Elton John, treating him either like pampered pet or prisoner, depending on her mood, and it is perhaps her most egregious crime. There's little doubt Poppy is a villain in Kingsman 2, but is she really the worst one?
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) release date: Sep 22, 2017