Kingsman: The Golden Circle suffers from every diagnosable symptom of Sequelitis. It’s not as sharp as its predecessor, nor is it as fresh or fun. The padded cast feels like a gimmick rather than a natural growth, and in the name of going bigger, the film ends up overstuffed, and it leaves the proceedings a bit muddled. The design feels more like a brand than a style, and as such, the elements of parody which made the original film feel so exciting no longer pop. But for all its flaws, chapter two in what will ostensibly become a franchise is still a total blast.
The Golden Circle picks up pretty much in real time. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now a 9-to-5 Kingsman agent. He and his girlfriend, Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), are living in domestic bliss in Agent Galahad’s former home. Short of his action-packed day job, Eggsy’s life has reached a point of stasis. Things are good. But when Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the world’s biggest drug kingpin enlists a former Kingsman recruit to help bring down the agency, things get dangerous quick, and soon Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to enact the “Doomsday Protocol.”
This protocol brings the duo to the doors of Statesman, a decidedly more American take on the “super-spies” game which masquerades as a liquor corporation. The agents here are all fittingly named after beverages. There’s bad boy, Tequila (Channing Tatum), country gentleman, Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and mousey tech geek, Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). At the top we find Champagne, aka Champ (Jeff Bridges).
It’s rather odd that marketing for Kingsman: The Golden Circle is leaning so heavily on the inclusion of Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Halle Berry considering the three of them are barely in the film. In fact, short of being a vessel through which to include these actors, the entire Statesman plot line is pretty superfluous, but what can I say? If Kingsman is primed to become an ever-expanding franchise, I’m happy that this killer talent roster has their foot in the door. Plus, there’s some fun to be had in putting the two agencies side by side. The Kingsmen (Kingsmans? Kingspeople?) are the epitome of the English stiff upper lip stereotype. Propriety and tradition trumps all. The Statesmen, on the other hand, are all about being cartoonishly rugged, American capitalists.
It’s crazy to think that Kingsman: The Golden Circle features two Best Actress Oscar Winners, two Best Actor Oscar winners, and one knight (I won’t say who).
While not fully necessary, if it’s been a few years since you last saw the first film, it might be worthwhile to revisit it. It alone merits a second viewing, and doing so will inform a few of the connective moments in the sequel. This is perhaps the most impressive feat of this series so far. Writers Matthew Vaughn (still in the director’s chair as well) and Jane Goldman have crafted a core group of characters that have unexpectedly become worth caring about. Part of the reason why the Statesman gang feels so ancillary is because Eggsy, Tilde, Merlin, and Harry (Yes, Colin Firth is back, and it’s not a spoiler if you’ve seen a trailer) make for a lovably organic ensemble. When any of the group finds themselves in danger, it’s easy to care about their wellbeing. The same can’t be said for any of the Roger Moore Bond flicks, of which Kingsman is a stylistic parody.
Let the record show that I love all Bond movies, except for three or four which I merely like, and Die Another Day, which is complete garbage and has literally zero redeeming qualities.
Let the record also show that there’s a scene where Eggsy needs to hold his breath for an extended period of time and I held my breath for the duration of the scene which means I too am qualified to be a Kingsman. By the same metric I am wildly unqualified to work with the Impossible Mission Force, although I’m sure they’d have me just the same because every good spy team needs a hunk.
The one area where The Golden Circle may surpass its predecessor is in its villain. No love lost to Sam Jackson’s Richmond Valentine, whose lisp and squeamishness toward blood, coupled with the perverted altruism of his motives made for a very entertaining and dense character, but I gotta give Poppy Adams the edge. Partially because her goal — the full legalization of all illicit drugs — is starting to look like a good idea here in the real world, and partially because Moore’s performance makes it very clear that even if drug kingpinnery were completely legal, Poppy’s knack for evil would not subside. Valentine used cruelty as a means to an end, Poppy sees it as a hobby. Julianne Moore runs a clinic on scene-chewing.
Vaughn’s action direction remains as crisp and fluid as ever, despite being very, VERY stylized. As much as quick cuts and hyperkinetic camera work tends to get my goat, something about the way this team of filmmakers constructs their action scenes makes it all flow. It’s over-the-top without being bombastic to the point of clutter. That said, in an effort to go bigger with everything, a lot of the action ends up feeling a little too distant from the real world to have any stakes. Part of the fun of watching the Kingsman brand of fisticuffs is the knowledge that it’s all a bit pretend, but The Golden Circle errs on the side of over stylization.
As for the sort of punk rock crassness which defined the first film (and caused many a viewer to express distaste), this film is mostly absent of it. It’s a softer film simply by nature of there not being much of an envelope left to push with this sort of thing. However, there is one scene that is so excessive, so aggressively tasteless, so weirdly high-concept, that it will ruin the movie for a lot of people. You will know it when you see it. As a Bond fan it got a laugh from me, but when it happened my whaaaaaaaaat-o-meter made slide whistle noises. If the goal of Vaughn/Goldman’s script is to spit in the face of propriety… mission accomplished. But I guess you gotta revel in the fact that there’s an effects house somewhere that was tasked with building the image in question.
Overall, fans of the original will find more than enough to like here, and even casual moviegoers are likely to get a couple kicks from it. Now if only I could find a way to adopt “bruv” into my vernacular without sounding like a cheeky monkey. It would be right brilliant, love. I’d be so chuffed.
Kingsmen: The Golden Circle open today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.