2014’s KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE was a fun, brash jolt of superspy fun that felt propulsive and like a logical updating of the crazy espionage films of old. Matthew Vaughn (along with his co-writer Jane Goldman) brought Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic to the screen with a flippant attitude that made it very entertaining. It wasn’t deep, it wasn’t the most extreme, but it was a fun popcorn flick that was eminently watchable and a good ride to go on. Unfortunately, the same team reunites to bring along the sequel, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, which is a tedious and sloppy film that tries to coast on the charms of the first film without ever being truly engaging.
The world of the Kingsman is blown apart, literally, very early on when they are decimated by attacks from a new nefarious foe. That enemy is a ’50s-nostlagia loving robot enthusiast (making her possibly the exact target demographic for FALLOUT 4) who happens to run the biggest drug empire in the world. Poppy (Julianne Moore) is a cutthroat empress that hides her sadism behind excessively positive actions, like if Martha Stewart ran SPECTRE. Now it’s up to the two survivors of Kingsman, Galahad (aka Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), to team up with their American counterparts, the Statesman, and stop Poppy before she kills off a large swath of the population.
This movie is a mostly joyless mess. There are certain scenes, lines, and moments that suggest a shift towards originality and fun; there’s even great promise in a lot of the universe expansion and doubling down on the super-science, bizarro spying promised in the first film. But the fact is that it mostly lands with a dull thud instead of a fun whizzbang that charged the first installment. Action setpiece after action setpiece occur, most of them trying to chase the excellent “church massacre” sequence in the first film, but they leave no real impression or even offer any type of impressive spectacle. Heck, even the CGI (which is used in ample amounts) is poorly employed and makes a lot of the film look cheap.
Cheaper still is the reliance on the first film. This should just be another entry in Eggsy’s continuing adventures, a reset like most of the Bond movies where there’s a new threat to be conquered. Instead, it trots out too much from the previous installment: the Swedish princess (with the anal sex joke) is now Eggsy’s serious girlfriend; a secondary (or even tertiary) character is brought back as a cyborg henchman; and Colin Firth returns from the dead in a plot twist that serves literally no purpose to Eggy’s arc or really to the film. These retreads and attempts to recapture the lightning in a bottle are all unnecessary—they bring with them no emotional baggage and serve no real purpose.
Those moments of nostalgia for its own previous incarnation could be forgiven if the new elements worked at all. Moore’s Poppy is an interesting concept as a villain, but her plan makes no sense, her attack on the Kingsman makes even less, and she is given heavy loads of exposition to dump onto the audience in ways that seem like it must be self-parody (but it isn’t). The Statesman (comprised of Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, and Jeff Bridges) is supposed to be the rough and tumble Kentucky foils to the prim and proper Kingsman. Instead the group is mostly a bunch of very good actors utterly wasted. Tatum gets one good scene, one throwaway joke scene, and that’s about it; Pascal is all over the movie, but an attempt to inject depth into his character barely ratchets it up to be one-dimensional. Berry actually gets an arc, shockingly, but it’s heavy handed and mostly she’s just used to explain away various plot points and secret agent gizmos. Bridges has nothing to do but show up in a few scenes, drink a bunch, and…no, that’s about it.
There are a few positive notes in KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. Mark Strong is great as Merlin, funny and perfectly written with a great performance. Taron Egerton is still charming in the lead role as Eggsy, this time a bit more confident than the first film (saving the world and fighting a cyborg lady will do that to you). There are a few moments of fun action that are rendered well (before going on too long and relying on too much bad slow motion), and definitely a few jokes that work (before being run into the ground and going back for diminished returns). But all of those moments are lost in an overlong film that never really establishes any rules for when a gizmo/weapon will work, or how, putting the audience in the uncomfortable position of never really understanding what the stakes are.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE feels like fanfic written by hyperactive pre-teens hopped up on Surge soda. There’s a real sense of “and then… and then…” constantly trying to up itself and its predecessor, without ever establishing its own personality or any sort of weight to the events onscreen. It’s a sloppy work that never connects with viewers and has no real emotional base (outside of Strong and Egerton), which makes it a bore to sit through. The first KINGSMAN coasted by on its charm and ingenuity. KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE manages to somehow be bogged down in tedium while merely riding on fumes.
— ROB DEAN (@neuroticmonkey).
Tags: Bruce Greenwood, channing tatum, Colin Firth, Dave Gibbons, Edward Holcroft, Elton John, Emily Watson, Halle Berry, Hanna Alström, Henry Jackman, Jane Goldman, Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Mark Millar, Mark Strong, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Gambon, Pedro Pascal, Poppy Delevingne, Sophie Cookson, Taron Egerton