In 2015, Director Matthew Vaughn adapted Kingsman: The Secret Service from the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons comic series, The Secret Service. Now, with co-writer Jane Goldman, he has crafted a sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Is it better than the original or just more of the same?
As the film opens, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is visited by a vengeful party from his past, which leads to an opening car chase that left me thoroughly bored due to its lack of tension or stakes. We soon find out that Eggsy’s antagonist was sent by unhinged and falsely sweet drug overlord Poppy (Julianne Moore). Poppy succeeds in taking out the Kingsmen save for Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) and the two of them head to America to enlist the help of their sister organization, the Statesmen. While there, they discover that Harry Hart (Colin Firth) miraculously survived being shot in the head, but he’s not quite himself. Poppy has a plan to hold the world for ransom through her drugs and the Kingsmen and Statesmen unite to stop her. Do they succeed? Will Harry ever be the same again?
Let’s get this out of the way right off the top—I liked the last Kingsman film, but I didn’t love it. I thought it was a fun action movie, but not everything worked for me. Everything was so over the top in the film, it’s kind of hard to match or top it with a sequel and The Golden Circle isn’t up to the task. There is a lot of good, entertaining action in this movie, but like I mentioned with the opening car chase, some of it is mind-numbing. There are also a lot of really funny moments in this one, but I get the feeling that Vaughn can’t decide if he wants Kingsman to be a comedy/satire of action movies or if he wants it to be a straight action movie in its own right. I know that the goal of these films is to be the modernized James Bond, but the excesses in this series rival that of the later Pierce Brosnan Bond films, which is when things started getting ridiculous, so it must be a parody, right? I don’t think it is. Vaughn really wants us to care about these characters, but honestly, the only one I give a damn about is Colin Firth’s Harry. Eggsy has never really endeared himself to me and the subplot involving him getting together with the Swedish Princess (Hanna Alström) from the end of the last film is totally ill-conceived. This was a random woman Eggsy met—and screwed—at the very end of the film and now I’m supposed to believe that they’re perfectly happy lovebirds? No way. It would have been far more believable if Eggsy was into his Kingsman teammate, Roxy (Sophie Cookson). At least he had some meaningful interactions with her in the last film—excuse me, onscreen interactions. The audience knows her, so it makes more sense. It seems the only reason why Alström is in this film is to call back to the anal sex joke from the first film and serve as a personal reason for Eggsy to save the world—because, you know, saving the world by itself isn’t enough. I’m not saying that Eggsy has to be like Bond and sleep with every woman with a pulse, just that Vaughn’s choice of partner was only good for a couple of gags and that’s it. It didn’t make me like Eggsy any more than I already did and it only made me pine for more Roxy in this movie.
I can hear you asking, “But what about the Statesmen?” Well, I liked the Statesmen a lot and would have liked far more time with them rather than worrying about Eggsy’s girlfriend. However, ladies, if you’re only showing up for Channing Tatum, be warned, he’s not in this a whole lot. The main Statesman involved in the action is Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey. I liked him a lot, but wasn’t thrilled with where they ultimately took his character. That was another big issue I had with this film—nothing surprised me. Obviously, Colin Firth’s resurrection would have been a shocking—but not entirely surprising—moment, but the studio had to go and ruin that with the film’s marketing materials—Matthew Vaughn has expressed his annoyance with the fact that the studio spoiled the surprise. While it was nice to see Firth as Harry again, his reappearance is really only a story device to explain one of the Statesmen’s gadgets and explore the whole “is he the same guy or not” subplot. However, outside of Firth’s return, which had already been spoiled, everything plays out as the characters state. There are no real twists that aren’t telegraphed and for a spy film, that’s really frustrating. The film is also way too long and overstuffed—again, cut the girlfriend material. Word has it that Vaughn’s initial cut was something ridiculous like four hours. Really? For a Kingsman film? This film should have been just under two hours, tops, but instead it’s closer to two and a half. So, because of that, things like the Statesmen don’t get the screen time they need or deserve.
The cast does their best with the material. I like Egerton, but Eggsy just doesn’t do it for me as a character. He’s fine enough, but if I want a funny spy, I’ll take Sterling Archer any day. Firth, as I mentioned above, was the only character I really cared about, but he probably shouldn’t have been in this film. I like him a lot as Harry, but I think he would have worked better in a flashback role, where things Eggsy runs into in this adventure reminds him of some unseen training with Harry from the last film. His appearance just kind of sets Eggsy back as a character, because at the end of the last film, he finally comes into his own after losing his mentor. Now, the mentor’s back and they don’t even take full advantage of Harry’s diminished status to have Eggsy teach him a few tricks. Julianne Moore does her best, but her character and her headquarters are so out there, they don’t seem to fit in this film. I didn’t find her overly compelling. I would have liked a stronger connection between her and the Kingsmen, but she only gets that through her henchman. Mark Strong is always great and I enjoyed him as Merlin, though later in the film, he gets a bit sidelined with all the other characters jockeying for screen time. I liked all of the Statesmen and would like to see more of them for sure. Channing Tatum was good in his scenes and Pascal is great. I also liked Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry in their roles, but again, they don’t get a lot of time to shine. There’s also an amazing cameo that I won’t spoil, but it is mined for several great jokes.
So, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is really just more of the same over the top action with characters that I didn’t really care about. There are no real surprises here. You know what you’re going to get when you go to a movie like this. It’s well-made for sure, but I would have liked to have seen Vaughn and company do a bit more with what they have to work with for the inevitable third film.