Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sequences of Strong Violence, Drug Content, Language throughout and some Sexual Material
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Written by: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
(based on the KINGSMAN comics by Mark Millar & Dave Gibbons)
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Pedro Pascal, Edward Holcroft, Hanna Alstrom, Poppy Delevingne, Bruce Greenwood & Emily Watson
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE was one of the biggest cinematic surprises of 2014 and became a huge hit for its over-the-top R-rated action, goofy comedy, colorful characters, and self-aware spy plot. It was essentially the KICK-ASS of spy films. Last year, we finally got a follow-up to KINGSMAN and saw the next chapter in the super-spy adventures of Eggsy and his secret agent cohorts. Like almost every sequel in existence, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE is a step beneath the original film’s quality. However, there is still a lot to love about this ultra-violent, bombastic sequel.
A year after the events of the first KINGSMAN, hoodlum-turned-Kingsman-agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has been pulling off successful spy missions and wooing his Swedish princess girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alstrom). Eggsy’s world gets a severe shake-up when robot-armed Kingsman reject Charlie (Edward Holcroft) leaks information that destroys the Kingsman headquarters. With their former secret service in shambles, survivors Eggsy and tech-wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) make their way to the USA’s Statesman organization. Their main objective is to take down the head honcho responsible for all of the death and destruction: Poppy (Julianne Moore) who just happens to run the world’s largest drug cartel and is currently holding millions of lives in her hands. As you might imagine, zany spy shenanigans and gory ultra-violence ensues.
For a sequel that took three years to hit theaters, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE actually does a damn fine job of continuing its cinematic world. The tone, characters, and wild action sequences all jive completely well with the first film. I watched GOLDEN CIRCLE right after a rewatch of SECRET SERVICE and (though it falters in other areas) this sequel is completely connected to the first film in cool ways. Taron Edgerton plays the year-older version of Eggsy as more confident, but still a young man who has self-doubts and problems to overcome (besides saving the world again). Mark Strong receives considerably more screen time as Merlin this time around. Seeing as all of the marketing has already spoiled it, Colin Firth also returns as the presumed-dead Galahad and is just as fun to watch in his second go-round.
Besides having lots of returning faces (including a stand-out Edward Holcroft as a metal-armed henchman), GOLDEN CIRCLE throws a lot of new characters into the KINGSMAN mix…with uneven results. The best new additions comes in Jeff Bridges as the Statesman leader and Halle Berry as the Statesman’s tech-master. Channing Tatum seemed like he would have a big role to play in the proceedings, but sadly gets sidelined for most of the film’s long running time. Julianne Moore steals the spotlight in her scenes as the overly cheerful (yet extremely sadistic) drug cartel lord. However, Moore’s villainess needed more screen time to shine because she doesn’t receive nearly the amount of fun interactions that Samuel L. Jackson’s speech-impedimented villain had in SECRET SERVICE. Pedro Pascal is a ton of fun as lasso-wielding Agent Whiskey though.
GOLDEN CIRCLE truly begins to show its sequel wear-and-tear when it comes to the film’s frantic juggling of subplots. There are a lot of things crammed into the 141-minute running time and it feels like it’s just too much at points. We see Colin Firth’s subplot and Merlin receives his own story arc. Eggsy is facing pressures with his princess girlfriend, facing ethical dilemmas on the field, and engaging in cat-and-mouse games against Charlie. There’s also something involving President of the United States (played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood). Of course, the Kingsman have been destroyed and there are repercussions from that. Also, there’s a plot for world domination from Julianne Moore’s drug cartel lord and an out-of-nowhere kidnapping plotline. Did that sound like a lot of stuff? It is…arguably too much and more interesting moments suffer as a result from the script’s overcrowding.
On a positive note, KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE remains entertaining the whole way through. It’s just a very messy film…and I’m not solely referring to the film’s gratuitous violence (which remains ridiculously awesome) when I say that. GOLDEN CIRCLE’s many storylines occasionally stifle each other, even if they are each cool in their own ways. There are nifty twists that heighten tension and provide excuses for awesome action scenes (never a bad thing in this series). The laughs are just as plentiful as ever too, because KINGSMAN still doesn’t take itself seriously in any way, shape, or form. If you liked or loved the first KINGSMAN, you’ll probably enjoy this one a lot too. Just don’t expect this sequel to live up to the heights of the original and you’re bound to have fun!