The sequel to the 2015 hit Kingsman: The Secret Service won’t make you feel the urge to shower and / or throw up, like the original probably did. Believe it or not, this is not always a good thing. Kingsman: the golden circle, Matthew Vaughn’s follow-up to his brutal and gleefully degenerate 2012 adaptation of the Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comics, was designed to broaden the show’s appeal, to make it a legitimate franchise. So there are more stars, more set pieces, more … thing. Screaming violence is still there, as is blasphemy. Gone, however, is much of the creativity, the unpredictable depravity, see what sticks. The film has its moments, but the bloat and blandness take its toll.
The original postulated that Kingsman was a bunch of ultra-British secret secrets.secret A dapper, good-natured, high-tech spy service that had long operated in a Savile Row tailoring company. But for some reason, they never seemed to work well as a team until after most of them were destroyed or made ineffective. In the first film, the bad guys infiltrated Kingsman’s management. This time, most of the group’s members are destroyed early on, along with their headquarters. Once again Eggsy aka Galahad (Taron Egerton), the young hero insider from the first film, and Merlin (Mark Strong), who provides tech support – the organization’s Q, remain behind again.
Searching for clues, they find themselves in Kentucky, in the headquarters of Statesman, their good old American counterparts, whose facade is a distillery rather than a tailor’s shop. The statesman’s agents wear cowboy hats, leather boots, and sports sleds, and are led by the chatty Patriarch Champagne (Jeff Bridges); their members do not bear the name of Arthurian legends but after drinks. There’s the Tequila (Channing Tatum) kicking and shit, not to mention Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), the Americans’ answer to Merlin.
Plus, locked in a white cell, Statesman has Harry Hart (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor, veteran super-agent and star of the first film. The last time we saw Harry he had been shot in the eye after spending a good chunk of his screen time shockingly and expertly slaughtering the entire congregation of a deranged, spitting southern church hatred; it was the emotional ending of the first film (but not the narrative), the electric moment when we realized that the filmmakers were capable of anything. However, the franchises need their stars, and it turns out Statesman has developed a way to save his heroes from fatal head injuries. Even so, Harry remembers nothing of his Kingsman past; he is convinced that he is a soft-spoken Lepidoptera.
I’m just bored typing it all up. The Golden Circle spends a lot of time introducing us to Statesman’s world and dealing with Harry’s amnesia. The first movie, of course, spent a lot of time introducing us to Kingsman, but it did so against the backdrop of a fierce competition between Eggsy and other recruits for a place among the elite agents; world-building, in other words, was enhanced by suspense, character development, and narrative motivation. Here, it’s more like orientation sessions with a bunch of go-anywhere cowboy jokes sprinkled in.
Fortunately, things are gradually improving. The villain here is a powerful drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore), hidden in the Cambodian mountains, in a colorful 1950s-inspired village that she built for herself. She is protected by robot dogs and cyborg thugs, and she has kidnapped Elton John, whom she forces to play for her. Additionally, she enjoys having her henchmen throw themselves into meat grinders and then force them to eat burgers made with their coworkers. Either way, Poppy has a plan to hold the governments of the world hostage by spreading drugs containing a deadly poison, for which only she has the antidote. I still don’t know how Elton John fits into all of this, but, being Elton John, he can’t resist the bad drugs and almost dies.
Eventually, Eggsy, Harry, Merlin, and mustached State Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), a Burt Reynolds lookalike who wields a retractable electric lasso, must find Poppy, and the film manages to deliver some interesting fights and dead ends. Of course, the action theaters are in line with the previous movie, with their physically impossible, CGI-infused single-take melees involving inventive uses of random props – fun, but more surprising. (I waited in vain for a single moment as inspired as the original’s disposable slow-motion shot of a villain stabbed in the face as his own severed hand zoomed in on him.)
The jokes, too, feel like retreads from the first movie, so even when witty they feel derivative: this time instead of a heroine offering the hero, ahem, anal sex in return. to save the world, we get – spoiler alert – Elton John gives Colin Firth ‘backstage passes’ to his next gig, with a wink. It’s funny, but it doesn’t come out of nowhere like the original weird gag. Something similar could be said about this whole movie: it jumps through a million hoops but fails to hit what the first movie seemed to effortlessly do.