If Kingsman: The Secret Service was intent on, and successful in, putting the fun back into spy cinema, its sequel, The Golden Circle, has clearly been established to bring back the silliness and smutty immaturity. In the directorial hands, once again, of Matthew Vaughn, it’s almost as if the past decade of James Bond never happened.
Now a fully established Saville Row secret service employee, chav turned Kingsman Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is in a committed relationship with his first-film damsel Tilde, Princess of Sweden, and it’s time to meet the parents – who just happen to be the King and Queen of Sweden. First though, our protagonist must fend off an attack from his Malfoy-esque nemesis Charlie (Edward Holcroft); he being the rejected Kingsman gone rogue of last time. Don’t worry if you’re not keeping up, Jane Goldman’s script literally recaps as it goes along. A scrap in the back of a taxi quickly becomes the most ludicrous car chase/fight in the history of cinema – more so even than has been achieved in eight Fast and Furious films. Eggsy and Charlie have, you see, now developed superhuman powers and can put Batman to shame with their acrobatic capabilities. Realised in unfathomably ropey CGI, the sequence is a nonsensical but riotously fun way to get going that concludes like the long lost Spy Kids sequel this really is. It also thoroughly betrays the story’s origin in Dave Gibbons’ and Mark Miller’s comic books. That or the Looney Tunes, it’s hard to tell.
Charlie’s now working for the titular Golden Circle, an international illegal drugs operation, run from a tarted up ruin in Cambodia by the sweet talking , but deadly, Poppy (Julianne Moore). In her isolated cartel. Poppy has transformed the location into a bizarre tribute to the fifties, complete with vintage cinema, salon and burger joint. Don’t eat the meat. Poppy has concocted up a convoluted and deeply flawed plan, served with a side helping of fries. Essentially, she’s poisoned all of her customers in a bid to force the US to legalise drugs… She also takes the time to somewhat randomly wipe out the entirety of Kingsman – bar Eggsy and Mark Strong’s Merlin – with a ridiculously expensive, but generally unnoticed by the wider world, missile attack on the UK.
Faced with the prospect of extinction, the last remaining Kingsman jet off to America to team up with their transatlantic equivalent secret service: Statesman – an operation headed up by an inexplicably all-star ensemble of Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum and Pedro Pascal.
The cast line up for The Golden Circle really is quite something. He was shot in the head last time but, of course, Colin Firth’s back, and there’s even an extended series of cameos by Elton John, having a f***ing blast. The snag faced by Vaughn with bringing in so many A-listers is the issue of how to make best use of them at the lowest possible six-figure (at least) price tag. Thus, almost every one of the newcomers is basically contained in one studio location. Bridges is stuck in the Statesman head office, Tatum is quickly dumped in a freezer and Moore is left to swan around Poppyland like a mascot in a Disney theme park. In a film that spans the globe (in record travelling times), the majority of the cast seem to have wrapped up their shoots on a weekday afternoon in Leavesden. Each are good value but feel oddly wasted. Literally, in the case of the criminally underused Emily Watson. As the action zips between the A-listers it’s hard not to feel that you’re watching some form of episodic sketch show. There’s a plot in between but it drags terribly and quickly becomes boring. John is a fabulous addition to the film – no spoilers here – but not quite enough to justify the tediously extended runtime.
Where you stand on Vaughn’s signature, trademark shock tactics, violence and approach to sex will probably determine much of your feelings towards The Golden Circle. Those offended by the bum-note closing gag of the first film would be wise to steer clear of the sequel’s dialled up encore: ‘If you save the world, you know what that means’ Tilde tells Eggsy. Cartoonish violence pervades almost every scene and no one – least of all a briefly appearing Keith Allen – gets a clean or easy death. Ultimately, it’s too much and frequently uncomfortable to watch. There’s nothing wrong with scenes crafted to provoke squirming in the auditorium but a line feels crossed when the film is having this much fun with sadomasochism. It doesn’t help that apparently the international secret service movement has an approach to gender equality that matches the BBC’s quota for panel shows. So as to allow Halle Berry into the film, Sophie Cookson’s Roxy must first be brutally and insensitively blown to smithereens. There’s no real emotional payoff to the loss of a central character from the first film and it’s frankly disgusting.
There’s fun to be had with Kingsman: The Golden Circle but it’s a sequel that offers little merit that was not already bestowed the first time around. Egerton, to be fair, brings a pleasing sensitivity to the action hero lark, developing his character from before in ways that prove him better than such material.