If the original Kingsman movie asked you to suspend your disbelief, Kingsman: The Golden Circle wants its viewers to take it and shoot it all the way to hell.
Apart from introducing casual cannibalism, smut film-level sexism, bullet-chewing dogs, gun-wielding robots and a ridiculously extended cameo by Elton John, the over-the-top and frustratingly overlong film entirely squanders the barely believable but entertaining premise of the first film.
In 2015’s Kingsman, we saw Taron Egerton’s Eggsy undergo a drastic makeover from social outcast to sleek super-spy under the expert mentorship of Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who is part of the elite spy organisation The Kingsman. And while the film may have been comical and a little silly, at least the makers committed with a gleeful abandonment to the film’s gratuitous violence and penchant for destruction. And when Harry took a bullet to his head and died, some emotion close to sadness was stirred.
The Golden Circle, with Matthew Vaughn returning to direct, evokes no such thing. Firth’s Harry returns within the first 20 minutes of the film, alive and well, with a fetching eye patch to boot, but conveniently amnesiac and recalling nothing of his spy life; also incidentally rendering every consequent death bereft of any impact. Simultaneously, and again conveniently, the rest of the Kingsman troops — save for Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) — are wiped out, making way for the Statesman to step in, who are basically the Yankee version of the Kingsman.
Eggsy and Merlin meet the Americans all the way in Kentucky, while they go on an avenging bout, hot on the heels of a secret and powerful drug cartel, headed by Poppy (a cartoonish Julianne Moore, who does little but stand behind large desks and feed her enemies to meat grinders).
The Statesman are also an excuse to introduce some might into the star cast, and the payroll includes bigwigs like Jeff Bridges (as Champagne “Champ”, the head of Statesman), Channing Tatum (Tequila, secret agent), Halle Berry (Ginger Ale, tech support) and Pedro Pascal (Jack Daniels, secret agent). However, none of them command any kind of serviceable screen time, save for Pascal (whom you’ll remember from Narcos).
The expansive action scenes that the franchise is known for fall surprisingly thin and flat, coming nowhere close to the blasphemous and high-energy church massacre of the first film. The opening car chase sequence involving Eggsy and another character they bring back from the dead pushes some adrenalin into the film with its gravity-defying theatrics, but fails because of the low-grade CGI. And the problem persists through the rest of the film, save for Pascal’s electric lasso that manages to light up some of the sequences closer to the climax.
All the characters are two-dimensional and there is little motivation behind any event that takes place on screen. The massive starcast, who must have been paid a fortune, are criminally under used so Harry and Eggsy can take centre stage, which makes the fact that they travelled all the way to the US even more bewildering. There’s also a drugs vs alcohol arc forcibly inserted into the film that more or less plays out like a giant advert for alcoholism.
With little going on to redeem this Bond-riffing spy sequel (unless you’re an Elton John fan), we recommend a re-watch of the first film, instead.