Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
For the record, you shouldn’t head into “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” with the same expectations you had with “The Secret Service” because, chances are, your emotional connection will likely misguide your judgement. Not to say “The Golden Circle” is a bad a movie. After all, what movie featuring the top notch Mark Strong singing John Denver could be that bad?
However, it would be wrong of me not to voice my decline in satisfaction with “Circle” as director Matthew Vaughn takes a “more is better” approach, and pumps up the stakes with your typical flux of big budget expenditures. Never mind if the plot or characters make any sense, just infuse the movie with some well timed action sequences and hope the audience will forgive everything else. And that almost works...almost.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons, especially because I watched the first “Kingsman” in order to prep for this one, and, side by side, it’s blatantly obvious which one is better. But I love the characters very much. It's like warm comfort food stepping back into this familiar territory.
If you saw the first one, then “Circle” will perhaps feel like a highlight reel as the film opens with a stunt that gets the pace running: as your favorite juvenile turned hero, Eggsy a.k.a ”Galahad” (Taron Egerton - who is just so likable) is going to battle inside a moving car. The scene flows with a steady stream of bare knuckle beat downs, and slow motion renderings in only the way Vaughn can showcase. It also serves as a reminder of why you might’ve loved the original to begin with.
Now, do you remember that last second one night stand that Eggsy had at the end of “Secret Service?” Well, apparently that blossomed into a full blown relationship and he’s living peacefully with Tilde (Hanna Ahlstrom) while still upholding his duty to the Kingsman brand. But what would this series be without a villain with some diabolical scheme to hatch. And we get it in the form of the bubbly Poppy; who is a home-sick, drug dealer with a feel for nostalgic 1950s memorabilia, played with a cheeky smile and annoying charm by Julianne Moore. Trust me, you’ve never missed Samuel L. Jackson this much in your life.
Poppy (what a fun name!) is on the prowl of expanding her drug cartel, and in doing so has released a toxin in her wide and vastly used product that causes her users/victims to grow blue spider webs in their veins. (That's what they look like anyway.) Part of her plan also deals with depleting the Kingsman, and, successfully destroying their assets. Which she does. Leaving all but Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) on the run, forcing them to activate the “Doomsday Protocol” which leads them to Kentucky, where the Brits’ cross country cousins, “The Statesman” are located.
Channing Tatum shows up for a brief introduction- (he gets in a good ole’ fashion hoedown with our friends, before disappearing for the better half of the movie) - sporting a healthy Southern drawl as Tequila. While Jeff Bridges is “Champagne” and Halle Berry is, wait for it, “Ginger Ale.” The biggest return though comes in the form of Colin Firth’s crowd favorite, Harry Hart. I won’t divulge the logistics of his return (as anyone who saw the first flick will go “huh?”) just understand that, for better or worse, it sort of-kind-of makes sense. Oh and amnesia is involved too. Those kind of plot loopholes are the reason “The Golden Circle” is not the best it could be, and I think the self referential humor hints that to the audience. Even Elton John shows up for a cameo that overstays it’s welcome, it’s funny and then, well, it gets old.
One could argue this film suffers from sequelitis, but some moments lead me to believe otherwise. A perfect example is the clear aging and agility of Harry Hart in a pub scene that mirrors its predecessor. I was ready to expect a repeat viewing from before, only to be surprised when Vaughn attempted something different. Tonally, it worked better for the picture and for the character. One of the few instances where the sequel grows on you. It also allows for another side character to be introduced, a sporty spice dude named “Whisky” (Pedro Pascal) who doesn't fight with his fists, just a lasso with electricity that cuts the bad guys in half.
Aside from that, the film lacks a definitive villainous presence from before. Now I like Moore as an actress, but her character's motive and reasoning is simply too flawed for an action movie of any standards. Over the top or not, it just feels lazy. Unlike Jackson’s Valentine, whom had quirks that somehow made him more balanced. You don’t realize how much he added to the picture until he’s gone.
But “The Golden Circle’ still has Egerton with his good looks, boyish charm, and likable wits that subdue most of the side effects. I also really got a kick out of Mark Strong, who just has so much fun playing the good guy that it’s infections. And of course we all love seeing Oscar winner Colin Firth taking on his action chops once and for all.
With the said, it's safe to assume the general consensus will be: “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a much better movie, I don’t find many arguing with that logic, but the characters the second time around, add a layer that’s a saving grace. I even nodded my head in sync during the climactic shoot out, tuned to Elton John’s “Saturday” no less. “Golden Circle” really does flow from one edge to the other, and comes painstakingly close to being a washed up version of a better movie, but thankfully starts to find rhythm towards the end. This will serve as a fine action supplement, until a more suitable, more distracting, replacement comes along. B-