Kingsman: The Secret Service,a surprisingly fun, exciting film by Matthew Vaughn that bled with style and honorably recreated the comic book work by Mark Millar, successfully fused the insanity of Kick-Ass with James Bond spy thrillers. Characters and their relationships were defined by the pure concept of the film, as it paired Taron Egerton’s rough and troubled Eggsy with Colin Firth’s suave, well mannered Agent Galahad. It was a spy version of My Fair Lady, and it worked, because in it’s world building of an original action series, it was also a tongue in cheek parody of the James Bond franchise, to the degree of creating brand excitement for young people in it’s audience to consider the purchase of sharp, tailored suite carried by the Mr. Porter brand in the same way Bond timelessly sports a Timex watch and drives an Aston Martin. While it pointed fingers and gawked at the genre, Vaughn and company clearly had fun building a new spy series for the next generation by simultaneously honoring the films and icons of the past, while also pointing out their glaring flaws.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is yet another sequel that simply provides more of the same, for better and for worse. The Golden Circle never builds on the excitement and “oh my god they did that” third act of its predecessor. It simply is a continuation, and escalation of the cartoonish conclusion of the first film: exhibit A being the car chase-fight sequence that begins mere moments following the film’s opening title on the Kingsman’s tailor shop window. In some regard, this showcases the traditional opening sequence found in a James Bond film, but the execution is one of the technically messiest actions sequences in the whole film. The rest of the film continues in this same manner, where it stylishly builds promising ideas in its first act and then sucks the fun dry by playing things safe in most of its runtime. Where it doesn’t, however, the audience will almost unanimously say “Too far, Matt” in the same way they did at the sight of the first film’s concluding shot. You know. That one. When considering what seemed promising, the things that will most likely pull people back into the theater after an enjoyable ride in The Secret Service will undoubtedly be Channing Tatum’s inclusion as Statesman Tequila and Colin Firth’s mysterious return as Harry Hart, both of whom are completely underutilized in the story throughout The Golden Circle in both screen time and in lazy storytelling, especially in regards to the quickly explained and underwhelming revival of Harry after suffering a bullet to the head.
The villain of the film, Julianne Moore as Poppy, is an equally enjoyable weirdo antagonist as Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine, even though her ultimate plan of world annihilation is one of the most half-baked spy film scheme since Christopher Walken played Zorin in A View to a Kill. That being said, her plan is one of the many aforementioned concepts in the movie that play way too on-the-nose socio-politically in something that is presented as a live action cartoon more than anything else. Despite this, her chipper attitude, love for robots and obscure 1950’s nostalgia make for some of the funniest and enjoyably grotesque scenes in the film, as well as a paradigm shifting of power to the Kingsman when she destroys all but two agents, Eggsy and Merlin. The survivors of Kingsman are then forced to travel stateside to discover their peers in The Statesman. The dynamic between the more proper intelligence agents and their booze-namesaked counterparts play for some good laughs, but more than anything it’s a plot device for the film to raise the stakes for Eggsy and the Kingsman while still being able to provide the team with countless weapons and gadgets, all of which are by far the most creative things in the movie. However, for every cool piece of spy gear, the movie throws other ideas against the wall to see if they stick, like robotic guard dogs that are pulled out of the Wolfenstein video game franchise. This, amidst an overabundant use of visual effects that are used to the detriment of the fun of the stunt choreography and unique camera work that has given Matthew Vaughn his claim to fame.
Sure, Kingsman: The Golden Circle maintains a certain consistent level of fun, but despite some wit, decent choreography and a well placed Elton John cameo here and there, this sequel has most of the same problems that any other sequel does: it absolutely must raise the stakes, give people more of what they think they loved from the first, and wrap things up neatly while still loosely enough to setup another sequel. Fun cameos and jokes are all well and good, but the overall package will feel hollow if the story’s raised stakes feel trope filled and both returning and new characters all feel, generally, underdeveloped.