Warning: Spoilers for Kingsman: The Golden Circle follow.
It was a major coup for the Kingsman sequel to land Channing Tatum. One of Hollywood’s few young male A-listers, Tatum has his pick of projects and unless the Coen brothers or Steven Soderbergh come calling with a juicy supporting role, he’s usually the lead in the movies he makes. For Tatum to join Kingsman: The Golden Circle as the American counterpart to Taron Egerton’s stylish British spy was a way for the franchise to signal an upped ante. The posters for the film, which put Tatum front and center, further promised a culture clash between the up-and-coming Brit and a new American statesman, the sort of conflict that could power an entire movie.
So why is Channing Tatum hardly in this thing?
The year 2017 is truly a boom time for famous people to barely appear in the movies they’re promoting, but Tatum seems like a particularly egregious example. As Tequila, the secret agent who initially butts heads with Egerton’s Eggsy, Tatum has two promising first scenes: In the first, he takes out both Egerton and Mark Strong with his physical prowess, and in the second, he threatens to kill Colin Firth’s saved-from-the-dead amnesiac. As far as foils go, you could hardly do better than Tatum’s spitting, drawling cowboy: Though he’s ostensibly a fellow crime-fighter, Tequila proves to be a thorn in the Kingsmen’s side from the very start, and Tatum luxuriates in every taffy-soft syllable he’s given. Somehow, he’s both good ol’ boy and bad boy all at once.
And then, in the third scene, Tatum is promptly placed in a drug-induced coma and all but removed from the narrative until the final minutes of the movie.
Listen, I like a good subversion of expectations. Give me a Janet Leigh in Psycho or a Drew Barrymore in Scream, and I’ll thrill to their unexpected early deaths. Even the original Kingsman pulled off a ballsy gambit by killing off Firth when you least anticipated it, though the new film undoes that plot point.
But what’s the point in sidelining Channing Tatum like this? Right after The Golden Circle takes Tatum off of active duty, the film introduces Pedro Pascal as another American agent named Whiskey, and it’s he who spends the bulk of the movie by Egerton’s side. While I like Game of Thrones and Narcos vet Pascal just fine, the whole thing smacks of messy screenwriting, like Tatum couldn’t commit to more than two weeks of shooting and they had to split the planned American-antagonist role between two characters.
Pascal’s character gets no real characterization when he joins up with Egerton — notably, he doesn’t share a single scene with Tatum, and Whiskey comes off throughout like a milder version of Tequila — then he cruises along until the very end of the film, when he steps to the fore as the final bad guy. The betrayal ought to pack a punch, but since we didn’t really get to know this character, it doesn’t. It feels like this was supposed to be the culmination of Tatum’s arc, where Eggsy must finally defeat the agent who first bested him; instead, he takes on another dude who didn’t do much except stand behind him and ineffectually flirt with Cara Delevingne’s sister at Glastonbury. Whiskey is only afforded one barroom scene where he kicks serious ass, but the other characters barely pay attention to him during that sequence, conducting their own dramatic business in a nearby booth. I can usually count on director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman for some neat plotting and able escalation, but something seems amiss here.
That’s particularly apparent when the film draws to a close and Tatum’s suddenly revived agent takes the place of Egerton as a bowler-wearing agent who will report to Firth. It’s meant to be a provocative character reshuffling, but why would we care when we haven’t seen Tequila for most of the movie? Tatum and Firth don’t even technically share a scene in this film, and it seems foolish to get me hyped on their future interaction after we didn’t get any of it in the film that promised it to us. Either Tatum will be more prominent in Kingsman 3 and we’ll finally get the movie they were advertising, or they’ll kill him off early on, introduce a new concern, and make us wonder what they needed Tatum’s gravity-bending star power for in the first place.
Is the film’s treatment of Channing Tatum surprising? Maybe. But mostly, it’s just unsatisfying.