Overview: After the Kingsman headquarters is destroyed, the remaining Kingsmen are forced to seek out their American counterparts, the Statesman, to stop a dangerous threat. Twentieth Century Fox; 2017; Rated R; 141 Minutes.
“Now I’ve Got Wings”: Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was creative, irreverent, well-crafted parody that still managed to have a sweetness to it, courtesy of its protagonist Eggsy (Taron Egerton). The sincerity and heart present in the chaos and parody in the original Kingsman came from Eggsy’s origin story, from an aimless working-class boy to an English gentleman spy, guided by his mentors Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and Merlin (Mark Strong).
With the Kingsman organization forced to seek out their “American cousins,” the scope of The Golden Circle becomes undeniably larger than its predecessor, an ambitious move that aims to not repeat the original film’s formula for success. Unfortunately Eggsy and Harry often take a backseat to the needs of the plot, and new characters are largely underserved. The deaths of the Kingsman, particularly Sophie Cookson’s Roxy, felt more tragic than the amount of screentime they were given would imply, but somehow there is enough time for the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) to have a subplot of his own.
Eggsy is a fully trained Kingsman now, and with his working-class origins are rarely remarked upon. Still, whether he’s in Adidas sweatsuits and dropping an obligatory “bruv” or not, Eggsy is as charming and cheeky as ever, and despite the film’s distractions, still easy to connect with. But because he starts as a seemingly seasoned Kingsman, he’s rarely incredulous, and unfortunately his lack of excitement and disbelief can sometimes be contagious.
Less tethered to Eggsy’s character development, possibly too to overly ambitious with its large cast and varied locations, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is bigger, but not better than its predecessor.
“What Dog Won’t Hunt”: The Golden Circle delights with new locations (possibly too many), and several new characters (possibly too many). Although played by an impressive new cast, there are too many new cast members to allow them all to do much. Channing Tatum’s Tequila, possibly the role he was born to play, along with Jeff Bridges’ Champ, are in surprisingly few scenes, although the former seems to be set up for an appearance in a sequel.
Still, there are no weak performances. Pedro Pascal as Whiskey has leading-man level charisma and gets some of the best fight scenes in the film, Julianne Moore is a solid cartoonish villain as Poppy Adams, and Halle Berry as Ginger Ale is adorable as the Statesman’s soft-spoken tech support.
The Statesman’s aesthetic is built on Westerns, with Julianne Moore’s Poppy and her international drug cartel headquarters given a 50s Americana vibe. Many of the jokes regarding the Statesmen are unspoken visual gags, and the differences between the Kingsmen and Statesmen are not the subject of enough jokes to seem lazy. All the members of Statesman are likable and entertaining, and their characters offer enough potential to make me excited to see them again.
“The Whole World Needs You”: Undeniably the most successful emotional thread in this film is Harry and his rehabilitation. He’s revealed to be alive after being shot in the first film, although he’s lost his memories. Merlin and Eggsy’s desperate attempts to jolt his memory back and reconnect with him are genuine, played absolutely straight. When this is the film’s focus, it’s subtly done, and remarkably sweet, and Eggsy and Harry’s teacher-student, father-son dynamic is played with tenderness and depth.
This relationship is more successful as an emotional anchor than Eggsy’s romantic relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström). Although the commitment to continuity between this film and the last is commendable, their relationship feels tacked on, and drops the ball when it comes to what could have been at least a momentary what it means for again working class young man to date royalty. Edward Holcroft as Charles Hesketh, whose presence is another commitment to continuity, is also a weakly drawn secondary villain.
This film, ironically, falls into the same traps as the spy thrillers and action thrillers it parodies: Too much plot, too many places, too much action, but not enough character. The fight choreography is impeccable, kinetic, and certainly entertaining. The action scenes themselves never disappoint, with some of the most creative stunt choreography I’ve ever seen. But it can feel like a slog not only because of its 2+ hour runtime but because it strings action sequence to action sequence without any commitment in tethering these sequences to anything.
Conclusion: Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an ambitious sequel, and when it decides to slow down and focus on Eggsy, Merlin, and Harry, it elevates itself beyond (albeit fantastic) fight scenes to a higher level of complexity and originality. Hardly a failure, The Golden Circle’s shortcomings are far from enough to squash excitement for a continuation of the franchise.