When Kingsman: The Secret Service debuted in early 2015, it was a breath of fresh air for a tired genre that was long overdue for a stylish makeover. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) continued his prowess in successfully adapting comic book-based properties, recruiting a veteran cast with the likes of Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Caine, as well as the star-in-the-making inclusion of Taron Egerton. The Secret Service provided an over-the-top, balls-to-the-wall send-up of spy movies, becoming one of the year’s best surprises.
And yet, even with how high I was on the first film, I went into the new sequel with some reservations. I was unsure that it would truly innovate on the series and was also worried that it would succumb to the unfortunate sequel-itis that mires many blockbuster films, resulting in a predictable and unimaginative follow-up. While The Golden Circle is certainly less original than its precursor story was, the action remains inventive and the plentiful jokes land more often than not, making for an enjoyably ridiculous romp that’s a worthwhile addition to the franchise.
The story picks up a year after the near-catastrophic events of the first film, and another super-villain is again plotting a disaster that could result in the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocents around the world. The antagonist this time ‘round is the delightfully deranged Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), head of the world’s largest drug cartel who oversees her lucrative production from inside “Poppy Land,” a 1950’s-inspired home base hidden deep within the Cambodian jungle. And when she almost completely disables the Kingsman organization of spies in England, our returning hero, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), is forced to enlist the help of American-based Statesman agents in order to put a stop to Poppy’s terrorism.
Eggsy (also known as Agent Galahad) enacts Kingsman’s “Doomsday protocol” and is lead to a whiskey distillery in Kentucky where he meets the agents that make up his American counterparts. We’re introduced to field agents Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), as well as support agent Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) and current leader of the organization, Champagne (Jeff Bridges). Also, in a twist that was unfortunately spoiled by promotion of the film, it turns out that the Statesman found and treated Eggsy’s former mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), and were able to save his life following what would have otherwise been fatal gunshot wound that occurred in the first film. Harry isn’t his old, ass-kicking self, however, and suffers from amnesia due to a recovery process that’s regressed his memory to far before he was ever a Kingsman operator. He’ll prove to be of some help in the mission here, although he’ll hilariously fumble about as he does so.
There’s an interesting world that’s introduced here with the Statesman, but other than Whiskey, who plays a major part in the proceedings, the American characters are almost all but forgotten throughout much of the film. However, the returning protagonists prove satisfactory due to their very charismatic and likable personalities, and Vaughn creates yet another memorable and well-developed villain with Poppy. The star-studded cast delivers, with Pascal and Moore especially standing out among the newcomers.
I don’t think there’s a scene here that’s as awesome as the now-iconic church scene was in The Secret Service, but co-writers Vaughn and Jane Goldman employ the same kind of intense, creative action sequences that the first film was lauded for. From the get-go, the emphasis is on bombastic set pieces, with even more incredible moments being displayed here than in the first. The climactic finale in particular is when The Golden Circle is at its best, featuring glorious death-defying stunts and stunning fight scenes. I also found this entry to be more humorous than its predecessor, which makes up for its somewhat lacking ingenuity and overly long runtime.
The Golden Circle is more of the same, but not that that’s necessarily a bad thing in this case. It probably won’t win over anyone that wasn’t already a fan going in, but if you enjoyed the original and want more of that film’s brand of ludicrousness, then I can’t recommend it enough.
4 stars out of 5
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor