Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Running Time: 141 mins
Synopsis: After their headquarters are destroyed and most of the Kingsman agents wiped out, Galahad (Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) must join forces with their American counterparts The Statesman to hunt the perpetrator. It will take all their wits and skills to defeat a sweet voiced villain (Moore), who is determined to hold the world to ransom.
Back in 2014 Kingsman: The Secret Service blasted onto the scene with a ballsy confidence and brash manner that took many by surprise. Delightfully skewering the spy genre with wit, humour and an air of unpredictability, churning up a hefty $400 million worldwide in the process. In returning for the sequel you’d expect director Matthew Vaughn to have the bolstered ambition to expand the mythology, go bigger with the set-pieces and pull off a worthy follow-up. Sadly that is not the case, The Golden Circle feeling like a first drafted karaoke version of the first films’ uniqueness.
Things do open promisingly, as Eggsy (Egerton) is ambushed outside the Kingsman headquarters by former recruit Charlie (Edward Holcroft, bland). Now working for mysterious organisation The Golden Circle, he attempts to take Eggsy out and a chase across London ensues. Energetic, inventive and huge fun, it is a great opening albeit one marred by some truly iffy CGI. Vaughn is always superb when it comes to framing and executing action from a visceral perspective, but in this instance his ideas perhaps got a little ahead of actual budgetary restraints. Soon after the story kicks into gear and it’s evident that whilst coming in at an unhealthy 141 mins the plot machinations are actually awfully thin.
A great deal of time is spent on Eggsy’s blossoming relationship with Princess Tilde, the woman he saved at the end of the first film, and despite an adequate chemistry it never rises above mere soap opera histrionics. It certainly doesn’t replace the effective kinship Eggsy and Colin Firth’s Galahad had in Secret Service, which is the bedrock of the problems here. Eggsy had a clear arc in the first outing, inspired by Pygmalion in his street rat to gentleman direction, and providing a perfect route into this strange new universe. This time out we have zero arcs for anyone, barring the so-so couple dynamics of him and the Princess. Eggsy starts out as a hero, and pretty much ends proceedings in the same fashion. You may think hope is in sight in the revival of the apparently dead Galahad (the explanation for this is nowhere near as outlandish as you’d expect), but the film reaches for the ineptly cliched memory loss tactic. The chemistry is still there and Firth once again blesses Harry (Galahad is his code name) with a rigid respectability and graceful action chops, but in the grand scheme of things he gets very little to do.
The catalyst for bringing Harry back into the fold is a plot involving the worlds recreational drug supply being poisoned by Julianne Moore’s peppy and sadistic villain Poppy. An intriguing side bar regarding the President (played with hammy relish by Bruce Greenwood) and his desire to let the addicts die at her hand is a cleverly pertinent spin on the War on Drugs. Overall though the plan is never quite exciting enough to drive things forward, opposed to the visual panache of the violent outbursts at the heart of the first film’s plan. As villains, Poppy and her mechanical armed henchman Charlie are nowhere near as entertaining as Sam Jackson’s crazily lisping bad guy. Julianne Moore has a bit of fun as the exceedingly perky Poppy, calmly and affectionately chatting to her goons before switching on a dime, at one point mincing one of her underperforming assistants before serving his remains up as a greasy burger. Despite all this none of them feel threatening in the least, which makes it a problem when you need someone to root against.
Poppy’s attack on the Kingsman agents leaves Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong, a warm presence as always) alone, forced to seek out their American counterparts, The Statesman. Ticking off that mythology expanding sequel checkpoint, they are a disappointingly sketched bunch. Each named after a particular liquor (one of the few real humorous side notes) they are used quite haphazardly, never truly fitting within the overall plot. Channing Tatum is a laconic presence but frustratingly underused as Agent Tequila. Same goes for Jeff Bridges (authoritative drawl in full effect) and Halle Berry (has so little to work with) as Champagne and Ginger Ale respectively. The only member who really gets some semblance of screentime is Pedro Pascal (Narcos) as Agent Whisky, and this is most likely due to his cheaper appearance fee than the other more bigger names. It is endemic of the film as a whole, semblance of great ideas but little development of them.
The Golden Circle feels akin to a first draft. Moments callback to the first movie, but they feel like cheap tricks designed to cover over the lack of ideas this time out. Gone is that palpable sense of daring the original so well carried. The only measure of something close to ballsy is a quite frankly shameful piece of sexist “jokery” which entails oral sex play at the Glastonbury Festival. It is so painfully misplaced and misjudged that I visibly wavered at its appearance. Some may callback to the anal gag the previous film ended on, and although that wasn’t classy, it at least played loose with the egregious sexism the Bond films usually wrapped up with, films the Kingsman franchise gleefully look back on with nostalgia. Across the board The Golden Circle is a tad lifeless, jokes never truly taking off, character interplay forced rather than natural. It feels odd as Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) return to scripting duties, but they seem to have forgotten what worked so well first time round. The heart is conspicuously absent, in its place is merely a shadow.
Flashes of gold do still present themselves at least. There is a genuine infectious sense of fun from the cast, despite the lack of strong written material they still manage to elicit a good natured vibe. Once more Vaughn proves himself one of the best purveyors of kinetic well choreographed action. His searching focused camerawork capturing some nifty stunt moves, particularly in the overblown finale. By far the MVP of the entire piece, unexpectedly, is Elton John. Yes that Elton John. Playing himself in an extended cameo, he appears to be having immense fun, playing with his persona and cussing up a storm. The use of his music, alongside some other clever song cues, gives the film a much needed energy boost. If only the delight Sir Elton shows in his scenes spread throughout the entire film, The Golden Circle may have been a worthy sequel. Unfortunately this Circle has rusted over somewhat.
Verdict: Kingsman: The Golden Circle has flashes of fun, but a thin story, overbearing running time and comedic desert result in this being a huge disappointment.