Everything that is wrong with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is intentional. And unlike the fresh, zippy action coupled with genuine moments of pathos that led “Baby Driver” to great success, Matthew Vaughn’s big budget, comic book adaptation goes in completely the other direction. At times, it’s gloriously over the top and, at other times, ridiculous and juvenile.
Picking up some time after the events of the first “Kingsman” that served as an excellent origin story for Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the Kingsman are riding high, having spectacularly saved the world. But, of course, a new threat looms in the form of a drug cartel called “The Golden Cirlce” run by Poppy (a devilishly delicious Julianne Moore). And fittingly, in order to execute her diabolical plan of world domination, she must eliminate the Kingsman first.
This leads to the explosions teased in the film’s trailers, which virtually kills off most of the Kingsman agents. How does this happen so quickly? A former Kingsman recruit, Charlie (Edward Holcroft) from the first film, attacks Eggsy in the opening action sequence in hopes of infiltrating the Kingsman defenses. This scene, again somewhat spoiled in the trailer, has Eggsy driving recklessly on the streets of London, while being shot at and chased by Poppy’s killers.
Director Vaughn immediately introduces a wild comic book visual scheme in this opening sequence that carries throughout the rest of the movie. “The Golden Circle” is bigger and cheesier than its cheeky predecessor. But that hardly makes it better.
Everything that follows the devastating attack on the Kingsman is turned up to 11. Eggsy and surviving member Merlin (Mark Strong) travel to the US and join forces with their American counterparts, the Statesman. Pulling out every possible Southern cliche, we learn that the Kentucky-based headquarters are presided over by an agent named Champaign (Jeff Bridges), who they call Champ. All Statesman members have alcohol related names. Channing Tatum is Tequila, Halle Berry is Ginger Ale, and Pedro Pascal channels his inner Burt Reynolds circa 1977 as agent Whiskey (with an “e”).
In time, Eggsy will find out that his mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) has survived being shot in the head in the first film. But the question is what remains of him. The trailer again teases this nugget, instead of leaving it as a unexpected surprise. Surely, hard core fans of the comic already know this detail, but some of us merely have the movies are our introduction to the material.
What works in “The Golden Circle” is largely surface laughs. The frantic action is of the video game variety, and while all sequences are sufficiently shaken and stirred and fantastically mounted, they are not any more special than what we have all become so familiar with in other movie properties. But Vaughn understands that taking this universe and the comic book genre too seriously risks exposing the ridiculous flaws in the entire artifice. A tongue-in-cheek goes a long way here.
So, we get Elton John playing himself in marvelous fashion. He sings and makes perfect use of the F bomb. We get gross out sexuality on the R-rated level coupled with rank sexism. And much of it is very funny, even entertaining although the jokes do run out of steam as the film well exceeds two hours of running time.
Ultimately, the sequel is bigger but weaker than the one that came before. And that means another “Kingsman” is unlikely.