Based on one of the lesser known comics by Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service emerged as one of the sleeper hits of 2015, a year rife with spy films as diverse as Spectre, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and, well, Melissa McCarthy’s Spy. The sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle likely won’t win over any new fans; it’s brash, profane, over-the-top, and fun as hell. While the new Kingsman adventure carries over some of the same problems as its big brother, it also improves in enough other areas to make the overall package more of the same — but better.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now a full-fledged member of the Kingsman, and has settled down with Princess Tilde after their adventure in the previous film. But a devastating attack on all Kingsman bases leaves the entire organization dead except for Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). They enact the doomsday protocol, which leads them to their counterpart organization in America: the Statesmen, led by Champ (Jeff Bridges), Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). The new target? A drug dealer named Poppy (Julianne Moore) who wants to legitimize the drug trade worldwide by any means necessary.
While I enjoyed the first Kingsman film, some of its more ridiculous elements never sat right with me. Exploding heads are fun, sure, but the movie’s constant change of tone made some things work less well than others. Thankfully, writer/director Matthew Vaughn has come much closer to perfecting that characteristic blend of 1960s spy film and 2010s action film.
While none of the set pieces in The Golden Circle come close to the church massacre in The Secret Service, they’re all pretty close. The movie starts with a good car chase and only ups the ante from there, featuring action involving robot dogs, an electrified lasso that cuts people in half, and Elton John in a rainbow-colored bird costume. There’s even a new version of the “Manners maketh man” pub brawl from the first film, and yes, the new one is at least as good.
Performances across the board are strong, with Egerton proving he’s the real deal yet again. Firth and Strong have worked together on at least a half-dozen movies, and their easy chemistry is evident as always. Julianne Moore proves to be a better villain than Samuel L. Jackson, although she’s given a bit less to do. Ditto for Bridges and Tatum, who turn in typically strong work but are underutilized. It’s nice to see Berry in another spy movie, albeit as more of a Moneypenny. Pascal does some great work here, providing another feather in his cap after recent breakout roles on “Game of Thrones” and “Narcos.” And finally, Elton John practically steals the movie, especially in the third act.
Production design and costumes look great, just like the first film but a bit more polished. Visual effects are crap — also just like in the first film — but that’s all part of the cheesy fun. The score was an unsung hero of The Secret Service, and it’s just as good here. There are some amusing cameos from character actors we’ve all seen in various movies, and all of them seem to be having a good time.
As far as problems go, Vaughn still doesn’t know how long to make his movies. He has a great track record — I’ve seen all of his movies except Stardust, and I’ve enjoyed them all, with Layer Cake being a personal favorite — but The Golden Circle is at least 20 minutes too long. A big part of the problem is the first act of the movie, which provides some essential context and backstory for the rest of the film, but unfortunately takes too long to really get going. It’s similar to the problem that John Wick: Chapter 2 faced earlier this year.
Also unfortunate is the fact that the villain’s plan in this movie is essentially the exact same as Valentine’s plan from the first film. Substitute SIM cards for drugs, and you get the idea. It’s an unfortunate lapse in creativity from an otherwise refreshingly creative movie.
Stakes are another issue; without spoiling anything (the marketing took care of that for me), we get the return of a character who we thought had previously died. While the explanation of his survival isn’t as lame as I expected it to be, it does make it hard to really invest in the characters when they’re ever in peril. That includes one who, in an admittedly poignant scene, bites the dust here.
Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and by the time the credits roll around, you’ll be catching your breath from the sheer insane fun of this movie. In a summer that was tragically bereft of fun popcorn fare, Kingsman: The Golden Circle arrives in September when we should’ve gotten it in May. It won’t win any Oscars, but as far as bang for your buck is concerned, it’s hard not to recommend Kingsman.