A film review by Craig J. Koban September 30, 2017



2017, R, 141 mins.


Taron Egerton as Gary 'Eggsy' Unwin  /  Julianne Moore as Poppy  /  Mark Strong as Merlin  /  Sophie Cookson as Roxy Morton  /  Colin Firth as Harry Hart  /  Halle Berry as Ginger  /  Channing Tatum as Agent Tequila  /  Jeff Bridges as Agent Champagne  /  Poppy Delevingne as Clara

Directed by Matthew Vaughn  /  Written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons




KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE is, for the most part,  an exuberantly stylish and enjoyable spy adventure comedy that sometimes thinks - as most big budget and lavishly scaled franchise sequels do - that an increase in scale and scope somehow also leads to an increase in overall quality.  This follow-up entry to the series introductory chapter (2015's KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE) is louder and more aggressively in your face, sometimes distractingly and desperately so.  And at a watch check endurance testing running time of nearly two and a half hours, this Mathew Vaughn directed outing (returning after helming the first film) is easily too overstuffed and too self-indulgently bloated for its own good.  

Yet, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE ostensibly offers up what made its predecessor so winning, which is to its ultimate credit.  Still, it would be an awfully hard task to duplicate the original KINGSMAN's never look back creative aesthetic and sly writing, which somehow managed to find a very difficult middle ground between neither sending up and spoofing the James Bond and Jason Bourne spy espionage genres nor paying too much hero worshipping fan servicing to them.  No, the unbridled novelty of KINGSMAN was in witnessing Vaughn and company embracing and subverting the standard conventions of classic spy films while simultaneously marrying them together with cutting edge, kick ass comic book infused action set pieces.  There was a free-wheeling and devilish energy about that film, which mostly translates in KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE; it joyously and audaciously doubles down on crazily inventive action scenes, but perhaps shows less discipline on the scripting side of things. 



On one strong positive, this sequel can dispense away with expositional origin specifics of not only the Kingsman themselves, but also of its main young hero and instead can thrust them into a whole new adventure.  Now a full fledged member of the Kingsman, Eggsy (the effortlessly charming and rascally Taron Egerton) is now trying to balance a private life with his girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom) with that of a clandestine operative working with his spy colleagues to rid the world of tyranny.  His relatively balanced and harmonious existence is dealt a devastating blown with the appearance of a new drug terrorist, Poppy (Julianne Moore), who has a particularly nasty two prong plan to (a) destroy the Kingsman organization altogether and (b) make the entire world addicted to her dangerous new drug with horrendous side effects and then hold every country ransom with the offer of an antidote.  Poppy does succeed in the first part of her scheme, leaving Eggsy all alone as the last surviving Kingsman alongside tech expert Merlin (Mark Strong). 

Realizing that they must thwart this insane drug czar's plans while avenging his fallen and dead comrades in arms, Eggsy and Merlin end up travelling across the globe to the United States to hook up with the Kentucky based Statesman, an Americanized version of Kingsman.  Led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges, once again harnessing the gravel voiced infections of Rooster Cogburn for a role) with aid from agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), the electric whip wielding Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and tech expert Ginger (Halle Berry), the Statesman lend their steadfast support to Eggsy and Merlin, but along the way the last two Kingsman are dealt another shock when it appears that their once slain agent and friend, Harry (Colin Firth), miraculously managed to be revived from death after being shot right through the eye in the previous film via some Statesman regenerating medical technology.  There's only once problem: the procedure has given Harry amnesia and he has all but forgotten his globe trotting days as a lethal spy, which adds a whole other layer of complexity to Eggsy's plan to stop Poppy once and for all. 

Now, let's all try to forget that imparting a lead character with amnesia is one of the oldest and laziest storytelling means to re-introduce said character back into a movie and establish some easy storytelling conflict and pathos.  Colin Firth, thankfully, is so utterly agreeable as Harry that it makes me willing to turn a blind eye to such plotting contrivances (that, and it does provide some of the film's better scenes of comic mischief showing Harry trying to shake off his amnesia at the worst possible moments for all involved).  This goes hand in hand with Vaughn's unwavering and headstrong commitment to harness even the zaniest and out there story elements this go around; his cavalier attitude towards trying, well, anything in KINGSMAN THE GOLDEN CIRCLE greatly assists the forward momentum of the whole enterprise, even when it becomes obviously too overrun with too many characters and subplots for its own good. 

The KINGSMAN formula remains lovingly preserved and intact here, but Vaughn still manages to inject some fresh ideas into the mix, especially with the introduction of the Statesman, an organization that's replete with laughably exaggerated southern U.S. stereotypes (most of the members are adorned with cowboy hats and western fatigues, not to mention that their base of operation is inside a whiskey distillery for good measure).  I only wished, though, that Bridges and Tatum (whom both figured so very heavily into the pre-release marketing for the film) occupied more than just a handful of scenes (Tatum in particular might occupy only five-plus minutes of the film's already long 141 minutes).  Given much more character breathing room is Pascal's wickedly droll Texan, whose Burt Reynolds-like mug and penchant for six-shooter justice gives this sequel a much needed jolt of renewed vigor.

I also really like Moore's outwardly appealing, yet despicably vile villain that projects a 1950's homemaker sensibility that's a front for what a truly twisted and corrupt soul that lurks beneath.  In pure Bond cinema tradition, she houses herself in an incredibly elaborate and secluded base of operations on a well fortified island, whose headquarters is adorned like a retro dinner from the mid-20th Century.  She also has robotic dogs, and enforcer with a retraceable mechanical arm, and a meat grinder that produces a very unsavory brand of burger that's made from the remains of those that double cross her.  Her compound also houses one kidnapped celebrity (playing himself...and I wouldn't dare of revealing him here) that she has primarily for entertaining herself on down time.  Moore hurtles herself headfirst into this character's paradoxical PLEASANTVILLE-esque demeanor that's cross morphed with a mass murdering psychopath with a reckless abandon that's oddly sinister. 

Of course, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE doesn't fail or disappoint in the action department either, and Vaughn does his damndest to one up the first film's show stopping sequences.  One highly imaginative scene involves a trip to the Italian alps and Eggsy and Whiskey being violently flung around while inside an out of control gondola.  Gravity defying mayhem that also flips a bird to the laws of physics applies to multiple other scenes as well, especially in the climax that features Eggsy and Harry mowing their way through wave after wave of Poppy's henchmen that's as glorious hyperactive and chaotic as that infamous church sequence in the first KINGSMAN.  Even when some painfully stilted and artificial CG augmentation makes itself apparent during these moments, you just have to respect Vaughn's level of committed showmanship here.   

Still, there are a lot of issues with KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE beyond its bloated scripting excessiveness that doesn't know when to stop.  Some of the would be uproarious comedy vignettes here sometimes come off more creepily than amusingly, such as the case with a wholeheartedly unnecessary subplot involving Eggsy being forced to insert a tracking device into a target's vagina while seducing her (it's about as tastelessly unfunny as it sounds, which all but helps prop up many of the first film's most vehement critics that felt that Vaughn was using female characters as props being served up for cheap laughs and payoffs).  There's a part of me that doesn't want to recommend KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE with a passable grade and stamp of approval, seeing as the resulting film is messy, disorganized, and frequently loses its focus.  However, it modestly succeeds where so many other Hollywood studio tentpole sequels fail, and it certainly benefits from having the sizably likeble Taron Egerton leading the charge, who exudes both a gritty streetwise toughness and vulnerability that makes Eggsy a relatable audience conduit to this series' madness.  That, and I genuinely want to see where this series will head next, which is a far cry more than what I could say for the smorgasbord of unremarkable and lethargic sequels I've seen as of late.   

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