Release Date: September 22, 2017
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Runtime: 141 Minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Matthew Vaughn had an inexplicable hit on his hands when he brought the loud, boorish Kingsmen comic series to the screen for a fun, stimulating romp in an era where taking the piss out of the spy thriller has been done to death, resurrected and killed once more (see Austin Powers, Johnny English, Archer, etc.).
Firmly believing it was nothing more than a stylish riff on a warn genre, The Secret Service carved out a niche for itself with its hectic action and its slobs-meets-snobs mentality that charmed in its own simple way, enough to find an appreciative audience. A sequel was inevitable, and now, with a new clout cast and more money than he knows what to do with, Vaughn releases The Golden Circle, a large, long, expensive dose of more of the same that shows how quickly that initial charm can dull when exposed to it for too long.
This time around the street kid turned international man of mystery, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), must save the world once more from a new eccentric villain in Poppy (a game but debasing Julianne Moore), who fills the same role as Samuel L Jackson did in the first film. Playing her as a demented Mrs. Cleaver in a truly thankless performance, she eliminates the Kingsmen resources and forces surviving members Eggsy and Merlin to turn to the Statesmen, their American counterpart, to stop Poppy’s scheme for world domination through tainted recreational drugs.
A nonsense, farcical notion that somehow outdoes the inanity of the evil, madness-causing WiFi signal plot from The Secret Service, The Golden Circle proves itself a bigger, dumber sequel that is less interested in building the world around the concept and just wants more things (action, characters, gadgets, locations) to fool you into thinking we are stepping things up here. While still entertaining in the way the spectacle soaked first one was, adding more of it to justify a sequel only depreciates what was good the first time around and makes what is here seem redundant.
While the attempts at world building and conceptual expansion in this Kingsman are admirable undertakings, they amount to little else than a heinously overblown run time which drags itself out over a dizzying third act of more action set pieces than I care to remember the details of. The Statesmen, who act as the proverbial “hook” of the sequel, are an interesting idea that ultimately proves superfluous as the story itself doesn’t need the red-blooded American lone star spies.
Golden Circle is still selfishly centered on the foul-mouthed Eggsy and the amnesiac Harry to the degree that Channing Tatum as the denim-clad Agent Tequila is side-barred and literally put on ice within 10 minutes of his introduction, never to have an impact again for the remainder of the film. For all its promising of raised stakes and new frontiers to be explored, Kingsman’s second go-around amounts to little else but an ill-informed opinion that a sequel has to be bigger, louder and longer to elevate on what the first delivered.
Vaughn as returning director also brought with him his frenetic, jittery, digitally enhanced shooting style, which always made action sequences feel charged with energy but ultimately seem aimless and confusing. A Kingsmen fight scene always looks exhilarating in a sensory sense, as the quick pans and jumps to slow motion for seconds at a time attest to, but trying to remember the details of one proved frustratingly difficult.
Fights, car chases and action set pieces never benefited the story at hand, as merely looking exhilarating doesn’t equate real emotional investment; these set pieces in The Golden Circle exist on their own little islands in the sea that is this film’s two-and-a-half-hour run time. While a hyper-sensory break can be fun when used sparingly, this sequel has no use for moderation and piles on action scenes while such as elements as character development are left by the wayside.
Speaking of, notably, what are left by the wayside are the women, as Kingsmen‘s gender politics make it abundantly clear that espionage is a gentleman’s sport. While facing a 1950s homemaker-throwback villainess who the male characters can’t help but label a “crazy bitch,” The Golden Circle also partakes in a subplot involving Eggsy and his princess girlfriend’s commitment issues and a trace implanting scene that would have made Austin Powers himself cringe.
If Kingsman was more satirical in its approach, then these uncomfortable moments could have gotten off the hook by nature of poking fun at an inherently misogynistic genre. Even with its tongue occasionally in its cheek, bearing the loose label of Action-Comedy, Kingsman never goes far enough to let its casual chauvinism slide.
The Golden Circle still has its set pieces and its jaw-dropping moments of high-octane action and choreography, but I was stuck on whether or not we needed this much more of it in the grand scheme of things. Fans of the first will still be carried through the film by the hints of larger stakes and greater significance to the world Kingsmen operates in, but those, like myself, who saw The Secret Service as a breath of fresh air will be left airless by the self-indulgent and money-flashing Golden Circle. While still fun and breezy, it never elevates itself to be a true sequel that could learn from the flaws of the first, being happy instead to believe merely having more equals a step up and not a migraine-inducing sensory overload.