Kingsman: The Secret Service was a ridiculously violent, completely over-the-top, charmingly stylish, CG-heavy action-spy romp with a surprising helping of heart and one very bad joke. Its sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, triples down on all of the above--including its cringeworthy comic sensibilities. The movie lunges, slides, and leaps frenetically from mood to mood, mashing up emotional reunions, goofy but impressive fight scenes, spicy one-liners of wildly varying wit, clumsy political commentary, and inconsistent humor. A lot of it works, but a couple of unfortunate choices hold The Golden Circle back from being anywhere near as good as its predecessor.
This Kingsman sequel sees Taron Egerton's Eggsy--A.K.A. Agent Galahad, a title he inherited from Colin Firth's Harry Hart--chasing down an international drug cartel led by Julianne Moore's Poppy Adams. Notably, Firth returns in The Golden Circle--despite getting shot in the head last time--and thankfully, the movie gets right to the point explaining how, instead of drawing it out as some big mystery.
Moore is easily the franchise's best new addition, as her egomaniacal supervillain comes with a funny twist: She's obsessed with 1950s nostalgia. Her secret jungle stronghold resembles a mid-century American town, complete with bowling alley, movie theater, salon, hot dog stand, and her diner-themed headquarters, where she makes loyal henchmen stuff each other in a meat grinder, turns them into burger patties, and feeds them to the survivors. Poppy is a maniac, but her nostalgia provides her with motivation: She aims to get all drugs legalized so she can return home and gain recognition as the successful businessperson she perceives herself as.
That involves getting the Kingsmen out of her way, which she does by blowing them up within the movie's first 15 minutes, instantly killing some characters whose absence from the film is sorely felt. The survivors include Eggsy, his tech support Merlin (Mark Strong), and for some reason Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), who gets a weird amount of screentime for having no meaningful purpose in the movie besides giving Eggsy something to fret over.
The resulting crater-sized holes in Kingsman's world are filled with the Statesmen, our heroes' heretofore unknown American counterparts. These country music-quoting, bourbon-swigging agents, including Channing Tatum's "Tequila," Pedro Pascal's "Whiskey," Halle Berry's "Ginger Ale," and Jeff Bridges' "Champagne" (although you'd better call him Champ), are about as ridiculous as their gentlemanly British counterparts. The culture clash when these groups come together is fun, although Tatum is barely in the movie. Seriously, he has about a scene and a half total, which you definitely wouldn't know from the marketing. It's a massive waste of Channing in a cowboy hat, which should be some sort of crime.
But The Golden Circle's biggest problem relates back to that "one bad joke" from the first movie. Specifically, the original concluded with Princess Tilde offering Eggsy anal sex in exchange for saving her. Matthew Vaughn, who directed, produced, and co-wrote both films, explained the gag in interviews as "a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind," decrying "bloody feminists." He said he meant it as a parody of Bond film endings, which always see 007 getting the girl. And even if the joke didn't land the way he'd hoped, it was easy for most viewers to overlook, because the rest of the movie was pretty dang good.
Unfortunately, The Golden Circle isn't content with just revisiting that bad joke, but also goes much farther in its failed attempts at parody. One particular poorly conceived plot point takes up a sizable chunk around The Golden Circle's bloated middle with a scheme in which Eggsy and Pedro Pascal's character have to seduce a woman and "insert" a tracking device into an unconventional place. The bad taste this drawn-out, nonsensical, cringe-inducing segment leaves threatens to overshadow all the movie's strengths. And this makes it a trend, and not an outlier like Vaughn would have us believe.
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On top of that, the movie's politics are all over the place, wavering shakily between "everybody does drugs, chill out" and "drugs are super bad, don't do them." The Golden Circle's Trump stand-in happily goes along with Poppy's evil plan to poison drug users and hold the antidote hostage, condemning millions of people to death because he sees them as "criminals." There's even a halfhearted Hillary-esque female politician who limply attempts to stop him, cementing the sensation that this script probably looked different before last year's election.
If you can overlook these flaws, there's plenty to enjoy in the rest of Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The action is cartoony and completely reliant on CGI, but super fun, well-choreographed, and creative. The Statesmen wield thematically consistent electrified lassos to match the Kingsmen's bulletproof umbrellas, and Poppy has menacing robot dogs (named "Bennie" and "Jet") guarding her secret lair. Elton John gets a surprising amount of time, although his appearances mostly involve swearing loudly at Julianne Moore. If that's funny to you, more power to you.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle cranks up the knobs on everything the first movie did. Unfortunately, that means more of the bad along with more of the good. Whether that makes this mission a failure or a success is open to interpretation.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Characteristic explosive Kingsman action||Some character deaths detract from story|
|Cowboys vs. gentleman is a fun culture clash||Cringey humor misses the mark|
|Julianna Moore as Poppy Adams||Tragic lack of Tatum|
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