After the Kingsman organisation is destroyed, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) have to join forces with their US counterparts, Statesman, to take down a global drug baron (Julianne Moore) intent on taking her operation legit - even if that means sacrificing millions of her customers in the process.
Man, this movie really suffers from a bad case of sequel excess.
Everything you liked about the original (Colin Firth; gadgets; ultra violence; hip soundtrack) is back, but pushed to the most obnoxious level. If you found the original entertaining, you will be underwhelmed. If you thought the original was too mean and violent, this might not change your mind.
The freshness of the original is missing, and what new ideas it does have (Julianne Moore's villain; a sociopathic US President; Elton John) don't feel as developed or interesting. It does not help the movie's case that it is constantly referencing its predecessor, to the extent of including flashbacks to the original. Making it even worse, brief sightings of Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine and Sofia Boutella's awesome Gazelle only reinforce the movie's lack of interesting elements.
The movie's focus on re-treading old ground also reinforces the movie's lack of purpose. The original Kingsman had a pretty clear thesis ('What does it mean to be a gentleman?'), and was structured to show that being a gentleman has nothing to do with background or economic status. By contrast, The Golden Circle never really figures out what it wants to be about.
Aside from the main plot, there are so many subplots that it gets a bit lost in the fray:
- introducing the new organisation Statesman
- re-introducing Colin Firth's Harry Hart
- Eggsy's relationship with Princess Tilde from the first movie
- the US President (Bruce Greenwood) using the villain's planned genocide as a way to achieve his own goals
- Eggsy's uneasy partnership with Statesman agent Jack Daniels (Pedro Pascal)
I know this franchise is a take-off on James Bond, but it is sad that it did not take on a few more tropes from the series - ideas like a simple plot (Bond v bad guy; Bond kills bad guy; end), ignoring continuity (e.g. no flashbacks) and no world building (Spectre aside). This movie is so busy that it never really has room to breath and become fun. Instead it just feels like a victim of modern trends in franchise-building.
The big new addition, Statesman, comes off like a cheap joke. Well, it would if the movie did not spend so much time on it. The focus on developing the organisation from an archetype of Southern white masculinity is a little questionable, but also feels a bit tired. Kingsman felt more fleshed out in the last movie, but its American cousin feels like an after thought. It does not help that the key players (Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry) are barely in the movie, and do not contribute much to proceedings. (BTW, it does not say much for Kingsman or Statesman that they have no idea that the other group exists).
The focus on Pedro Pascal as Whiskey also feels unnecessary. He is not that interesting as a character, and he is sidelined as soon as Colin Firth returns to action.
Speaking of which, Colin Firth's return never really feels essential, despite the movie diverting a large part of its middle act to his rehabilitation (amnesia, baby!). It does not exactly undermine the significance of Harry's death in the original - but does not add anything to it, or his relationship with Eggsy (here's hoping the plot device that brings him back is dropped in the next movie).
CG is plentiful, and so is a lack of stakes. All of the set pieces are airless and fantastical. They are fun to watch, but never immersive (most exterior sequences scream green screen). There was plenty of cgi and speed-ramping in the last movie (two things which I did not particularly care for), but these elements felt necessary as an augmentation for what was already there (such as Gazelle's legs).
While the movie is overblown and overstuffed, it is still watchable. The returning cast are all on pretty good form. Taron Edgerton does not get much in the way of character development, but he tills what soil he is given. Firth and Strong are also good, although some of the avenues the script sends them down feel a bit arbitrary.
As far as the newcomers go, Julianne Moore is having a blast as the villain. Poppy is the secret puppet master behind all of the world's drug trade, and Moore gives her an air of surface charm which the filmmakers never really exploit. She gets a terrific entrance, but then the movie gets mired in other nonsense until the third act. I wish she had more screen time so we could get more out of her - we never see that cheery facade crack, and it would have been nice to get more depth out of her (we don't even get something as simple as Valentine's aversion to blood in the first movie). Her lair suffers from being an obvious set, but I like the idea of an exiled billionaire recreating the things she misses from home. The juxtaposition of fifties Americana (Poppy's diner and hair saloon look amazing) and jungle is great.
And Elton John's role is pretty fun - they actually find a way to make his role a bit more involved than you initially expect, and his scenes are some of the few points where the movie steps off the gas and just bathes in its own lunacy.
Overall, while it is never bad, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an overlong, uninspired sequel that never comes into its own.
Kingsman: The Secret Service