Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of the biggest critical and financial hits of 2015, but to my surprise I kind of hated it. Tonally the film never really found a distinct voice and the last 40 minutes of this film were so oft-putting and mean-spirited that it was miserable to sit through. For this reason, my expectations were deathly-low going into the anticipated sequel The Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle follows Eggsy, whose continuing his maturation process as both a spy and man. When the Kingsman headquarters is destroyed, he is forced to travel stateside to join forces with the spy organization The Statesman. They team up to stop Poppy, a wicked villain who has poisoned the drugs of the world, potentially killing hundreds of millions.
With a two and a half hour running time and over-stuffed narrative, The Golden Circle has some obvious imperfections. To my surprise however, this is a widely entertaining homage to old-school James Bond films that makes steady improvements over its predecessor.
To me at least, The Secret Service was a film that struggled to establish a clear tone. Half of the narrative was focused on the generic trappings of an origin story, which for me derailed a lot of the entertainment value. The narrative for The Golden Circle feels fresh from a Roger Moore James Bond film, allowing for plenty moments of campy fun. Director Matthew Vaughn crafts a film more in line with the wild energy of Kick-Ass than the previous Kingsman entry.
Perhaps my biggest issue with the original film was just how unappealing much of it was. From the massacre of innocent civilians to the grossly misogynistic treatment of the main heroine, much of the supposedly “entertaining” aspects of the final hour left me feeling icky. Thankfully, Vaughn and his frequent collaborator Jane Goldman are much more conscious of their misstepings. Aside from one clunky sexual encounter, much of the film is rid of the gross undertones the original featured. Eggsy and his fellow Kingsman are instead much more heroic, looking to save the masses at all costs.
The Golden Circle has similar entertainment value to the best of this summer’s blockbusters. Vaughn directs with a raw kineticism that is exciting, with the free-flowing and widely unique action sequences being a blast to watch. Its impressive the way he can create such sense of movement without compromising the coherency of the sequence. I also credit Vaughn and Goldman for creating a lot more successful gags here, including a few involving a certain celebrity cameo that had me dying with laughter. Even though the film is a little bit too long (141 minutes), it honestly did not bother me as much as it should.
Much of what works here is credited to the cast. Taron Egerton continues to prove himself as a star in the making, with his endless charisma making shine as Eggsy. Colin Firth and Mark Strong both reprise their roles from the original, with their respective roles getting more development. The chemistry between the three actors is lovely, with Firth and Egerton in particular having a sweet dynamic. Julianne Moore makes for a solid villain, and the star-studded supporting cast does the most with what they have.
The Golden Circle has some apparent flaws, and like the original I can completely understanding people picking this film apart. The big draw of the sequel was suppose to be the addition of The Statesman, but that idea fails to be more than just a fun concept. Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Jeff Bridges have not nearly enough screen-time to make an impact. The only Statesman that has a significant role is Narcos star Pedro Pascal, who is stuck in a thinly-written and frankly thankless role.
There is an inherent clumsiness to some of the film’s execution. Vaughn and company try to incorporate a ham-fisted message on drug use, and its overt to the point of overkill. The screenplay also takes a bit too many detours, with there just being too much going on from a narrative perspective.
Despite inherent flaws, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a energetic ride that improves on much of the original’s major issues. I am excited to see where Kingsman 3 goes from here.