2.5 out of 5 stars.
If 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was surprisingly fun, its sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” is surprisingly disappointing. The film, which is once again directed by Matthew Vaughn, opens promisingly enough with its protagonist, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) engaging in a wild fist fight with a rejected Kingsman applicant, Charlie (Edward Holcroft) inside a cab as it careens through the streets of London. Of course this seemingly random attack turns out to be a precursor to something larger, something that, just a few more short scenes into the movie, destroys the Kingsman agency and just about everything and everyone Eggsy loves.
It’s the fact that this destruction occurs and soon passes by with such a lack of sincerity that places the film on an awkward footing that it never recovers from, and in some ways reverses the ideas that permeated the first film. A major theme in the first “Kingsman” was Eggsy having to balance training to become a member of the elite English spy organization with his emotional ties to his friends and family (including his adorable little pug). In this movie, Eggsy doesn’t appear to have much of a problem severing emotional ties in favor of his job, the only outside distraction being his girlfriend, the princess Tilde (played by Hanna Alstrom, who you may remember Eggsy rescuing at the end of the first movie). The film shows the most heart in the bond between Eggsy and Harry Hart (Colin Firth), an older Kingsman agent who discovered Eggsy and became a sort of father figure to him. But even their scenes together in this film sometimes leave the viewer feeling rather cold.
Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Harry has retrograde amnesia as a result of being shot in the eye by Sam Jackson in the last film, and can’t remember Eggsy or anything about his career with Kingsman. Yeah, you know how we thought that killed him? Well, it didn’t. “The Golden Circle” introduces us to Statesman, an American spy organization based out of a whiskey distillery in Kentucky. Its members are every bit the stereotypical Southerner, from hard-drinking agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) and the lasso-wielding agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) to their leader, Champ, played by the always charismatic Jeff Bridges. Anyway, when Eggsy and the only other surviving Kingsman member, tech guy Merlin (the always delightful Mark Strong), track down the Statesman for their help, we find that they’ve been keeping Harry over the last year, having found him and used a fancy bandage that is adept at both healing head wounds and conveniently resurrecting the most appealing character in a film franchise.
The force behind all this destruction is Poppy, the leader of a drug cartel who is peppy, psychotic, and an utter waste of Julianne Moore. The illegal nature of her profession forces her to live in hiding in a secret fortress in the rainforests of South America, which she decorates with 50s nostalgia to remind her of home. The sight of a neon diner and old theatre existing alongside a tropical forest is certainly quirky, but it doesn’t do anything to make her character any more or less appealing. Her whole deal is that she is mad that cigarettes and alcohol are also harmful but are legal, so she begins poisoning her drugs to push for their legalization. It’s a surprisingly timely agenda for a villain in this sort of movie to have, but it doesn’t quite fit with what is otherwise an extremely unrealistic film.
Much of that unrealistic-ness has to do with the stylized action, which was a big part of why the first film was so successful. Vaughn brings that back to this film—somewhat. While there are still plenty of gravity-defying stunts, overall the action sequences in this movie settle in to a more average blockbuster formula. They aren’t as unnecessarily graphic, but they aren’t as over-the-top and creative either. In fact, there are long stretches that this already over-long movie possesses where there aren’t the big action sequences we’ve come to expect, spending time instead on new characters that aren’t that interesting (like Halle Berry’s Ginger Ale, the Statesman tech girl who wants to be a field agent) or on the sort of immature humor that you probably remember from the last movie (but a lot of it is pretty funny; even though he is used much more than I thought he would be, look for Elton John—I won’t say more). I haven’t watched “The Secret Service” since it was in theaters over two years ago, but I can still recall specific sequences—the bar fight and the church fight featuring Firth, for example. I don’t think I’ll remember any of the action scenes in this movie within a couple weeks.
Those who enjoyed “The Secret Service” will likely be pleased with “The Golden Circle.” It is, on the whole, an entertaining enough time. But in going from a cheeky, over-the-top send-up of Bond films to a ho-hum action movie, it’s lost a lot of what made “Kingsman” so successful in the first place.
Runtime: 141 minutes. Rated R.