Back in 2014 when Matthew Vaughn was adapting lesser-known material for the screen, in the comic series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, expectations were not exactly sky high. Few really knew what to expect from Kingsman: The Secret Service but even fewer expected the film to be the success it was. Blending a stylish cinematic aesthetic with Brosnan era techno thrills and Moore era comedy, Kingsman boasted crazily inventive action scenes, charismatic comedy that nailed the right balance of homage and parody and featured some enthused performances by a cast fully committed to the spy caper chaos. Naturally, a sequel was guaranteed but as we all know, following up a sleeper hit or big screen novelty can be a difficult task (see: Monsters: The Dark Continent, Piranha 3DD, Now You See Me 2 and Bad Santa 2). So, has Kingsman: The Golden Circle managed it?
Well, no, it hasn’t entirely but that is not to say that we are in Hangover sequel hell here, as the Golden Circle of the film reviewing community have suggested. First and foremost, The Golden Circle is lesser next to the first movie and on its own merits has a great many flaws but in spite of this, there is a lot of knowingly ridiculous fun to be had. The biggest issue the film has is in Vaughn and Jane Goldman’s screenplay, which goes the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 route of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However, unlike Marvel’s aforementioned sequel, The Golden Circle does suffer from feeling overstuffed with ideas and cluttered with plot strands. Vaughn and Goldman commendably throw a lot at the screen and the results are admittedly enjoyable more often than not but in turn they are messily assembled, lacking the same consistent energy as the first movie. It doesn’t help either, that the core themes don’t grip like the class conflict narrative core of The Secret Service, I mean the USA/UK contrasts here hardly feel as wide as the social class divide last time.
The film does conjure up some exciting and massive set pieces though and actually feels like Die Another Day (wait, wait, let me finish) with a more knowing tone (and no invisible car!) and an infinitely better pop superstar cameo. Speaking of which, by now (the internet being the cruel place it is) you probably know who it is but just in case you don’t, we won’t spoil it but this cameo unexpectedly rewards with showstealing comedy crackle. There are funny scenes and lines throughout, even if the script really does recall past gags too often. Also, if you found certain parts offensive last time, it’s worth nothing that this movie goes a step or two further, at one point a bit too far for some tastes no doubt.
Having said all this, the cast elevates the film and while some of the big names that populated the trailers (Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges) don’t always have lots to do onscreen, everyone is well on board with what this movie is. Taron Egerton brings back his naughty magnetism as Eggsy, while Colin Firth’s (hardly a spoiler at this point) return as Harry is as much fun as before and Mark Strong (as Merlin) is reliably brilliant. There is also a fantastically all-in performance by Julianne Moore as Poppy Adams, a villain who has quirks that feel just right for a Kingsman franchise big bad.
Overall, The Golden Circle may have its share of faults but the Vaughn and co. have had a go in matching the madness of the first film and while they struggle, fans will likely find something to enjoy as a result. The retro style influences create some strong imaginative visuals, the soundtrack is punchy, the cast are invested and the bombardment of preposterousness offers some undoubtable enjoyment. Yes it is very untidy, yes some characters are unrefined, yes the plot is all over the (tailors) shop and yes there are some missed opportunities but the fun is still intact. After all, when a film features a terrible president, a breakdance pandemic, a villain infomercial and a scene with a sinister burger, it’s at least worth a butchers, innit bruv?