Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to 2014’s refreshing Kingsman: The Secret Service, is an overblown, overlong, over-the-top love letter to itself. Where Secret Service served as a contemporary homage to the early James Bond films, Golden Circle has one goal in mind: to outdo the first. The homages here are of dead dogs and anal butt play (Service‘s most controversial joke that sparked outrage from those demanding the oxymoron of sanitized R-rated entertainment) with precious few clever moments.
When Britain’s “independent international intelligence agency,” Kingsman, is infiltrated and destroyed by a powerful drug cartel known as the Golden Circle, surviving agents Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) partner with their U.S. cousins, Statesman, to take them down and save the world from a despicable, global hostage threat.
Where the first film dealt with the theme of climate change, Golden Circle takes on the war on drugs. The most notable deviation is that instead of universal complicity from corrupt world leaders, the noxiousness here stems solely from the U.S. presidency (surprise, surprise). Any legitimate criticisms the film takes aim at are obfuscated by the ridiculousness of its screenplay, inflated to the point where it makes the first film seem grounded by comparison – a film that, mind you, featured a technicolor firework display of exploding human heads!
This underlies Golden Circle‘s biggest blunder. It fiercely attempts and strives to push the boundaries of its predecessor (a film that already blurred the line between cartoonish escapade and live action) that it obliterates all of its stakes and comedic potential. Notorious (aforementioned) anal sex joke? Let’s up it with a vaginal implant scene. Long-take hand-to-hand combat scene? Knock it up a notch with a robot-armed baddy (a returning Edward Holcroft); yet, what can you say about a robot arm powerful enough to destroy a brick wall in one go that fails to make the hero even bleed despite repeated direct blows to the face? To top it off, nothing in Circle comes close to capturing the unbridled intensity of Secret Service‘s bloody church brawl – a scene that concluded with a daring, satirical execution.
Recognizing that Colin Firth was the undisputed highlight of the original, co-writer and director Matthew Vaughn constructs a ludicrous scheme to resurrect its leading man (minus one eye), necessitating the hackneyed sacrifices of others to mollify character congestion. This mortal negation robs the film of its (remaining) danger, even by comic book standards. Sure, other characters meet their fates during the course of the story but their deaths lose all of their impact. Worse still, as welcome as it is to see Firth back, the story had simply outgrown his character; adversely, it takes the focus off Egerton who had developed well as his successor.
With the exception of its returning players, Golden Circle‘s expanded cast of A-listers are mostly wasted or inserted primarily for celebrity grandstanding. Despite the allusion of its trailers, Channing Tatum‘s appearance serves as little more than a cameo to deliver an added checkmark for publicity’s sake. The same can be applied to Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry (to a degree). Elton John, in full “Crocodile Rock” attire, has a beefier role than all three combined although his presence here is chiefly for the shock value of depicting a foul-mouthed, parodied version of the singer’s own colorful persona (a comic trend of late that has quickly grown tired).
Fairing better are Julianne Moore as the cadaver-burger cooking, Grease-inspired villainess and Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones‘ Oberyn) as Eggsy’s electric lasso twirling Statesman partner – the most significant new character despite Pascal’s name being omitted from the poster and a majority of the film’s marketing (Pascal may need to have a long talk with his agent).
Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a disappointing endeavor, consumed by its own arrogance. It’s not a total train wreck, however, and it has enough entertaining action (of the lasso variety) to sustain watchability. As its title may suggest, Kingsman has come full circle to become a parody of itself; the silver (rather than golden) lining here is that there is enough potential left in the series to course correct should there be a third film.