You can only surprise someone once. 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a clever, ultraviolent and irreverent take on the spy genre, back in the mid-2010s when there was a sudden renaissance of funny spies. In 2017, we’re limping along to the end of humanity with some fairly good movies to help get us through — and Kingsman: The Golden Circle is here to offer us slightly less of the same, still somewhat entertaining, but nowhere near so lightning as its predecessor.
After the Kingsman Secret Service is blown up, surviving members Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Sing) and quartermaster Merlin (Mark Strong, Miss Sloane) find their way to Statesman, their Kentucky counterpart. Teaming up with Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, TV’s Narcos) and overseen by Ginger Ale (Halle Berry, Extant), Tequila (Channing Tatum, Logan Lucky) and Champagne (Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water), they have to find who targeted Kingsman, what is causing the mysterious #bluerash, and why Harry (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones’s Baby), now minus an eye, can’t remember them. Perhaps Poppy (Julianne Moore, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2), in her secret compound, has the answer.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle begins with a fight inside a moving car, which is often a highlight of action films. It then segues into blatant The Spy Who Loved Me territory, and there are several other set pieces through out. None of them particularly pop or reek of ambition, but more than that, there are several mirror scenes designed specifically to evoke the first film and they don’t stack up nearly as well. Writer/director Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman: The Secret Service) has an eye for action but ultimately doesn’t try to go big enough here. The story is relatively sound but is largely about ideas without much substance behind them, and an escalation that accelerates too fast without much in the way of development. There’s an interpersonal drama that informs much of Eggsy’s role in the film, and it overlaps with the spy scenario in the worst possible way — far more questionable than anything that featured in the relatively benign initial entry. That Vaughn cowrote the film with a woman, his regular writing partner Jane Goldman (Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children), does not justify one particular scheme making its way to the screen.
Egerton, Strong and Firth are the natural core of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and they work very well together. Firth occasionally presses the sad button too hard, and Strong doesn’t allow himself the levity that helped with the climax of The Secret Service, but it’s a rare dynamic, and well played. Moore is an asset who is woefully under-utilised; she remains in a single location for the entire film and, though it’s an arrestingly designed compound, it severely limits her character’s options. One gets the impression that Moore is having more fun than anyone else in the cast, but the exquisite detail of her performance underlines the fact that sometimes minimalism is not the correct course to take.
As to the rest of the new cast members, it’s clear that Berry, Tatum and Bridges are employed here largely because they’ve signed multi-picture deals to set the table for future entries in the franchise. This is fine but they really do have almost no part to play.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle isn’t exactly a case of creating a carbon copy of a delightful ornament, but it’s a diminished return regardless. There are good ideas here and more than competent execution of a lot of them, but The Golden Circle has the scent of missed potential. We know that if this does well there will be future Kingsman and Statesman hybrid films; one can only hope they’ll incorporate their ideas more cohesively next time.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle opened in Australian cinemas on Sept 21, 2017.
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn.
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges.