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Why Merlin From Kingsman: The Golden Circle Looks So Familiar

With The King's Man only a few months away (fingers crossed that there isn't another COVID-19-induced delay), there's no better time to look back on the Kingsman films. 

Based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons' comic book series (though it was originally known as The Secret Service, which serves as the subtitle for the first film), both films comprise a thrilling spy story, full of all the gadgets and fun action sequences one could ask for from the genre. Of course, no spy story would be interesting if the characters weren't interesting, as well — which luckily isn't the case for Kingsman. Protagonist Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, a.k.a. Agent Galahad (Taron Egerton), is as rebellious as they come, but he's a big softie beneath the tough guy exterior. First film baddie Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) channels all the energy of a great James Bond villain while fitting in the Kingsman universe all the same. Even the more behind-the-scenes characters, like tech wizard Hamish Mycroft — appropriately nicknamed Merlin — are equally fun to follow.

Having appeared in both Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Merlin actor Mark Strong may seem familiar to Kingsman fans. Here's where you may have seen the thespian before.

Mark Strong reforged a well-known character in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on the 1974 John le Carré novel of the same name, is a Cold War spy thriller with a name we bet you can't say five times fast. It's been adapted for the small screen before, with Alec Guinness in the starring role of George Smiley, but the 2011 film sees Gary Oldman take up the torch of leading man. He's incredible, earning an Academy Award nod for Best Actor, and his performance is only bolstered by those around him, including Mark Strong as British intelligence agent Jim Prideaux.

Strong's Prideaux is a bit different from the Prideaux of le Carré's novel, or the 1979 miniseries version (Ian Bannen) for that matter, yet the changes work for what the film is. He's as capable a soldier as ever, but his demeanor is overall more muted than that of his book and miniseries counterparts, and his intelligence is amped up to eleven. It's difficult for any actor to follow-up on a legacy role — especially when changes are made — but Strong absolutely nails it. His portrayal of Prideaux deserves as much attention as the book and miniseries versions, if for entirely different reasons.

Mark Strong supervised the CIA in Zero Dark Thirty

"Zero," "dark," and "thirty" are all fairly common words, but few would guess that together they represent a military term for night-time (via The Guardian). Considering the focus of the film Zero Dark Thirty — the manhunt for infamous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden — it's an appropriate title, indeed. Organizing and executing the manhunt took close to a decade in real life, requiring an unimaginable amount of manpower and resources to see through. The CIA played an integral role in the terrorist's defeat, as reflected through Strong's character George.

George has the stressful job of a senior supervisor at the CIA, in charge of the many officers, agents, and analysts working to complete the mission. Maya Harris (Jessica Chastain), an intelligence analyst, is a constant thorn in George's side, pressing him to get the permissions he needs faster. It's not so easy as one, two, three, however, and Strong's performance definitely reflects the mountain of stress involved ... but one also has to wonder whether George is also a wee bit jealous that the spotlight constantly shines on Maya.

Mark Strong hunted for stronger magic in Shazam!

DC films have a spotty track record when it comes to both critical and audience reception. The DCEU has put out its fair share of hits, like the enchanting Wonder Woman and the entertaining Aquaman. But for every swing, there's a miss: take Suicide Squad, whose Rotten Tomatoes scores are ... embarrassing. As of February 2021, Strong has appeared in both a DC flop — Green Lantern (not part of the DCEU), in which he plays Green Lantern Corps defector Sinestro — and a DC success, Shazam!, in which he plays Doctor Thaddeus Sivana.

The not-so-good doctor is a longtime nemesis of the titular comic book hero, though his look is updated significantly for the film. As opposed to his classic evil scientist get-up, the Sivana of the film is a tall, intimidating man, sporting a dark jacket and a scarred blue eye. The intimidation follows through in Strong's performance: He wants what Shazam (Zachary Levi), has — insanely powerful magical abilities — and he'll do anything to get it. An inexperienced kid like Billy Batson (Asher Angel) isn't going to win the day easily against a foe like that, making for many a tense scene, action or no action.

Mark Strong was a sage soldier in 1917

If someone said World War II was the most significant event in human history, it would be hard to argue with them. It's no wonder storytellers of all stripes — from filmmakers to video game developers — have spent so much energy on the extremely violent affair, chronicling everything from its countless battles to the politics behind them. The war is covered so often that its predecessor could almost be called overshadowed, but that's not to say World War I doesn't get its fair share of attention as well. 1917 is the perfect example, a critical darling and audience hit nominated for a staggering 10 Academy Award nominations, of which it won three.

The film mainly follows two soldiers, Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), as they set out to deliver a message of critical importance across no man's land. To call their journey perilous would be the understatement of all understatements, and Captain Smith (Strong) makes sure that the boys stay on their toes with an important bit of advice. We won't say exactly what that advice is, for the sake of not spoiling it, but the much older soldier doesn't want his younger compatriots to suffer as he evidently did in his own youth. The full details of his experiences are never divulged, but Strong's performance is more than enough to get the point across.