Kingsman: The Secret Service was a not particularly inventive rehash of Mark Millar’s previously adapted work, Kick-Ass. The derivative spy take on the same tropes of the super-hero send-up bored me endlessly with its nihilistic approach to James Bond minus the strange wit of Kick-Ass, which shared not just creator Millar but also director Matthew Vaughn, who couldn’t help but seem to rip off his own work in a lazy rehash.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle, thankfully, is not Kick-Ass 2. That sequel was a massive letdown that quickly destroyed the goodwill carried over from the inventive original film. Here, with The Golden Circle we have the opposite effect. Considering that they had nowhere to go but up following The Secret Service, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has the wit, charm, and fun that the original was lacking, minus the nihilistic violence that was so out of place in the first film. Don’t get me wrong, there are still gruesome elements but nothing that approaches the overrated church shootout of Kingsman 1.
Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) is still living with the loss of his mentor, Harry (Colin Firth), as we join the story of Kingsman: The Golden Circle. His time to mourn, however, is quickly cut short as the film dives into a spectacular car chase to open The Golden Circle. Though it is showy and rather pointless to the plot, the chase is undeniably spectacular with Edgerton battling it out inside of a cab with a former Kingsman recruit who is now working for the bad guys and is part robot.
The bad guy in Kingsman: The Golden Circle is actually a bad lady played by Julianne Moore. Poppy, Moore’s character, is a drug dealer who hopes to use her illicit products to hold the world hostage. Meanwhile, she’s also found a way to take the Kingsmen out of the game by blowing up all of their headquarters around the globe and killing several of Eggsy’s close friends, while he happens to be out of the country.
It appears that only Eggsy and his pal Merlin (Mark Strong) are the only Kingsmen left until they discover their American cousins, The Statesman, via a conveniently placed bottle of whiskey. The Statesmen are headquarted in Kentucky and use whiskey as the same kind of cover as the Kingsman tailor shop. They are led by Champaign (Jeff Bridges) and his top guys, Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and their tech wizard, Ginger Ale (Halle Berry).
The Statesmen have another surprise for our heroes. They’ve somehow saved the life of Harry (Colin Firth). If you recall, Harry had been shot in the eye and seemingly killed by Samuel L. Jackson’s big bad in Kingsman: The Secret Service. It turns out the Statesmen were nearby and managed to use some new technology to save Harry’s life, though at the seeming cost of his memories. Harry can’t remember the Kingsmen and it will take extreme measures to bring him back to his old self.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is longer than the first Kingsman film but has a better pace and stronger action than the first film. Director Vaughn has dialed back on the blood and guts a bit and has allowed the actors to step into their characters a little more and it helps a great deal. Taron Edgerton is given a love story in The Golden Circle, involving a character from Kingsman: The Secret Service that I will leave you to discover on your own. It’s a solid sub-plot and one that gives Eggsy something to fight for beyond revenge for his fallen colleagues.
I was a little bummed to see Vaughn and his team go back on what was the only good dramatic element of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Harry’s death. Bringing back Colin Firth feels like a mercenary marketing maneuver. Not that Firth is particularly bankable but he was unquestionably the driving force of the first film’s marketing campaign with his debonair James Bond act. Bringing him back feels like an admission that people have not connected with Taron Edgerton and the filmmakers had to cheat to hedge their bets and get Firth back to keep the box office propped up.
Strange then that they hired Channing Tatum and then didn’t use him. Both Tatum and Jeff Bridges are little more than cameos in Kingsman: The Golden Circle despite having their faces on the posters and all over the film’s marketing campaign. Tatum is especially absent with only one notable scene in the movie. Most of the Statesmen action comes with newcomer Pedro Pascal, best known for the Netflix series Narcos, who is doing his best Burt Reynolds cosplay.
Pascal is fun with his oddball western accent and pencil-thin mustache. It’s not hard, however, to guess where his character is headed and the movie isn’t very clever in building toward his plot. Pascal does well to sell the action set-pieces and has a strong star charisma but he’s let down badly by a script that tips its hand far too quickly. It also doesn’t help that audiences will be coming to see Tatum and instead get mostly the guy from that Netflix series.
That Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an improvement over Kingsman: The Secret Service isn’t much of a statement from me. Kingsman: The Secret Service was a nasty, bloody mess of a rehash of Mark Millar’s previous work. Kingsman: The Golden Circle stands apart from the original by not being bound by it. The Golden Circle is looser and more playful than the first film. This sequel has a stronger sense of humor and fun than the first film which equated buckets of blood and bullets with wit that was sadly lacking.
There is a good deal of wit and charm to Kingsman: The Golden Circle and while I can’t say that I love the sequel, it’s a vast improvement on the original and that’s enough for me to recommend it to fans of action movies and super-spies.