Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of the most pleasant cinematic surprises of 2015. Based on Mark Millar’s mildly misanthropic comic book, director Matthew Vaughn improved upon the source material, adding style, pathos and whimsy; a trick he also pulled off with the film adaptation of Kick-Ass. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is also a surprise but, sadly, this time around it’s not such a pleasant one.
Set a year after the events of the original, The Golden Circle wastes little time in literally blowing up the status quo. In short order, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) loses his home, place of work, a bunch of coworkers and dog. Teamed up with Merlin (Mark Strong) the pair travel to America to meet the Statesmen, the US equivalent of Kingsman, who fight the forces of evil with laser lassos and weaponised spittin’ tobacky. Yee-hah and so forth.
The 141 minute film is required to perform a balancing act where it gives our leads a proper story, introduce new characters in the form of Tequilla (Channing Tatum), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) and Champagne (Jeff Bridges), plus concoct a satisfying villain, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) with a nefarious plan for world domination. Sadly it fails at many of these tasks, with baffling pacing decisions that make the main action feel truncated but a scene where Eggsy has to finger bang Clara Von Gluckfberg (Poppy Delevingne) at Glastonbury (to insert a tracking device, natch) drags on interminably.
That’s not to say The Golden Circle is without its moments. When the film takes a minute to breathe the character work is solid. Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth are all reliably excellent, although the inclusion of the latter takes up way too much screen time. The action is frenetic and well-directed, but nothing comes close to topping the gleefully splattery church massacre from the original. Julianne Moore’s Poppy starts strong, and includes some semi-subversive chatter about the war on drugs, but ultimately squanders the opportunity.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle seems less interested in skewering spy movie tropes and notions of class in favour of including celebrity guest spots, like an initially amusing but ludicrously overplayed Elton John cameo. It’s a film that manages to be sporadically engaging but is too bloated and unwieldy to hit the mark like its predecessor. It’s unfortunate because you get the feeling there’s a good film in there, somewhere, but it’s buried under a landfill of winking self congratulation and unnecessary callbacks. If the Kingsmen return for a third outing hopefully they’ll think to include the services of a judicious script editor next time.