In 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a breath of fresh air because it was so unexpected. It was released the same Valentine’s Day weekend as Fifty Shades of Grey and that film hogged much of the spotlight, at least opening weekend. As time progressed, Kingsman gained traction due to positive word of mouth and a certain wow factor from some of its scenes. It was equal parts familiar and unexpected in its approach to a genre that could be described as a bit tired. I mean how fresh can a concept like this be with 007 still going strong at the box office? Director Matthew Vaughn was able to be so off the wall with the concept that it allowed it to stand out in a very special way.
I’m happy to report that the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is entertaining and worthy of the price of admission but it comes with a bit of a caveat. The one thing missing here is the element of surprise. The Secret Service was able to get our attention because it came out of nowhere but The Golden Circle can’t quite achieve this feat. There are a bigger budget and a lot of CGI enhanced action, but none of it is of the “wow did you just see that” variety. This may seem like this review is headed in a negative direction but it definitely isn’t. The film is still great fun and is aided by a more than game cast who seem to truly get the material. None of it is taken too seriously and despite a length that could’ve easily been trimmed (it clocks in at nearly 2 and half hours) the film feels like it should’ve gotten the summer treatment rather than debuting in September (although things are pretty backwards here as September has been a record-breaking one at the box office while August left much to be desired).
The Golden Circle opens with an overproduced but largely exciting action sequence/chase scene in which The Secret Service’s Galahad a.k.a. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) tussles with former rejected recruit Charlie (Edward Holcroft – remember him from the first movie?), who is working for the world’s largest drug producer, the aptly-named Poppy (Julianne Moore). She’s a psychopath with a penchant for ‘50s kitsch and a love of all things mechanical, especially her robo-dogs. She also likes grinding her own hamburger meat (that intro is a highly deranged scene that is deliciously entertaining). Through Charlie, she gains access to all of The Secret Service’s classified files, including names and home addresses and, in one night of fire and brimstone, kills virtually everyone, including Eggsy’s dog. The only survivors are Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). We soon learn that the former Galahad, Harry (Colin Firth), is alive and well in America, having survived Samuel L. Jackson’s shot to the head with just a lost eye and temporary amnesia. With no members left in the U.K., the survivors are forced to link up with their American comrades, the Statesmen. Around this time, Poppy unleashes a fatal disease on the world and tries to blackmail the U.S. President (Bruce Greenwood) into capitulating to her demands. (She really has only one: the full legalization of all drugs.) Eggsy, Harry, and Statesman Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) are dispatched to find and obtain a sample of the antidote.
The use of the Statesmen is a bit of a deception within the marketing. The most prevalent member of the squad is Pedro Pascal who doesn’t let Burt Reynolds down with a spot on mustache. The rest of the team, so to speak, isn’t used as much as we were led to believe. If you’re seeing this for Channing Tatum you may be disappointed because this is essentially a glorified cameo, although when he is used he is clearly having a great time. The same can be said for Jeff Bridges who is also here for a quick paycheck and very little work. Halle Berry, as the tech wiz Ginger, is used a bit more but one wishes all of them were on deck with a bit more screentime. Perhaps some of the American names were added to boost the box office ante which could prove to be worth it in the weeks to come.
Without getting too deeply into spoiler territory, there are things worth mentioning. Recognizing that Colin Firth was the best thing about The Secret Service, the filmmakers contrive a way to bring him back. Okay, so it’s very hokey, but we’re willing to go with it because he’s Colin Firth. Vaughn figures out a way to do something that’s never before been done with a John Denver song (the audience really seemed to dig it when I saw it and he does similar work with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy). We also get the dubious pleasure of hearing Cameo’s “Word Up” re-imagined as a Country Western tune. Yeah, you heard that right. “Word Up.” Then there’s Sir Elton John, rebooted as a high-kicking, hard-swearing action star. Jackie Chan doesn’t have anything on this guy and what could’ve been a very cheesy addition, actually turns into the highlight of the film.
The action is serviceable but it lacks the punch of the first film. That’s not to say the sequences aren’t fun but there isn’t a ton of wow factor. The opening sequence has been in my life since July (it was screened at The Kingsman panel at Comic-Con) and it’s still easily the best action moment. It’s a bit effect heavy but Vaughn brings a visceral style to it and his use of music mixed with action is impeccable.
Taron Egerton maintains the same charm and charisma that made him such a breakout in the first film. This guy is destined for big things and this film only proves that even more. Colin Firth, although though long dead after the first film, is a welcomed addition as always and his chemistry with Egerton hasn’t missed a beat. Probably the strongest performers of the Kingsman is Mark Strong who continues to display great range. He’s appropriately heroic here but is capable of pulling off the most despicable villains in other roles. Taking on the villain mantle from Samuel L. Jackson is Julianne Moore and while that is no easy task, Moore is completely capable. She is deliciously deranged and manages to steal most of her scenes. I love when an actress of her caliber takes on a role like this because it allows them to cut loose a bit and she’s clearly having a blast playing the role.
In the end, The Golden Circle is a worthy companion piece to the original, even though the element of surprise is missing. It could’ve used some more time in the editing room (certain subplots came off a little redundant in the end) but it’s still solid entertainment and I wouldn’t mind going on another adventure with these characters.
Reel Talk gives Kingsman: The Golden Circle 3 Reels