There was a point in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, somewhere between the robot dogs and the secret base underneath the lake in Hyde Park, that I thought to myself that the film had jumped the shark. Then I remembered that the follow up to 2015’s stellar Kingsman: The Secret Service had never pretended to be realistic, and neither had it’s older brother, and they’re all the better for it. Even if the second time around, it often feels like it’s retreading old ground.
The Golden Circle picks up soon after the end of the first film. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) or as he is now known: Galahad, is now a full fledged member of the Kingsmen and is in a relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) who was the butt - sorry - of the crude joke that ended the last film on a bum note.
However, a catastrophic attack on the entire Kingsman organisation leaves Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) on a journey stateside, to team up the the Kingsmen’s American counterpart, the Statesmen. A new threat emerges in the form of drug lord billionairess Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) who has released a virus into illicit drugs across the globe, holding the entire world hostage unless her demands are met.
It’s a nifty setup, that gives director Matthew Vaughn caveat to clear house and introduce a slew of new Hollywood stars in the form of the Statesmen, who are named after alcoholic beverages rather than knights of old. Jeff Bridges joins the cast as their leader, Champagne - he prefers Champ, and Halle Berry shows up as Ginger Ale.
Channing Tatum hams it up as Tequila, and Pedro Pascal of Game of Thrones and Narcos fame joins as Whisky. The Statesmen are a lot of fun, bringing a new angle to the mythos of the Kingsman universe. They own a distillery instead of a tailor, and have a net worth of a number that I don’t think I can count to.
There’s a real sense that everyone involved is having a ton of fun, and as in the previous film, the fight scenes and set pieces are thrilling, edited in a kinetic, CGI pumped up fashion that makes for an ultra violent, fantastically silly spectacle. The second time around, we seem to double down on stupid gadgets and even stupider situations, and a lengthy cameo from Elton John is at times hilarious, and other times a little bit cringy.
Julianne Moore is an absolute joy, chewing the scenery as Poppy Adams, but she doesn’t have any direct contact with the Kingsmen until the last twenty minutes or so, which leaves the film leaving strangely disjointed for much of its running time.
A trip to Glastonbury halfway through feels like a complete change of gears at a time when the film needed something to up the ante. In fact, much of the globe trotting outside of the Kingsmen’s first trip to America feels entirely redundant. Watching Eggsy and Whisky place bets over who can insert a tracking device into a side villain’s girlfriend feels squirmy in the way that the first film’s final joke did, but The Golden Circle also redeems itself around a number of these issues with Eggsy’s attitude towards his girlfriend, and other women in the film.
It’s no spoiler to say that Colin Firth returns as the original Galahad, as the promotional material and posters for the film gave it away months ago. His return allows for Eggsy to hit some interesting emotional notes which invest the character with a bit more depth than you might expect from what we see elsewhere in the film.
In many ways, The Golden Circle’s biggest flaw is that it’s the second film in the franchise. Much of what was fun and fresh the first time around feels a little silly and disjointed here. While the film treats a number of subjects with a bit more dignity than you might expect from a flashy, stupid blockbuster, there’s still no denying that it’s a weirdly unconnected film driven forward by pithy jokes, blood, and stylish violence.
Halle Berry, Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are underused in such a way that it feels like they were only on set for a few days, and while there’s room for growth in a sequel, it’s debateable as to whether we really need one. The Golden Circle seems to be evidence of a law of diminishing returns and a number of call backs to scenes from the first film are just a reminder that it felt much more clever and witty than this film does. It felt like the large popcorn I snarfed down while I watched it. Enjoyable at the time, but once you’ve had a chance to digest it, it’s strangely unsatisfying. Elton John’s potty mouth is worth the ticket price alone, however.