Cinematic Releases: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) Reviewed

the golden circleWhen a sequel was announced to 2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service, with director Matthew Vaughn returning, the question on everyone's minds was "How do you top the original?"  

Kingsman was a revelation; based on Mark Millar's graphic novel series, it was a fresh, exciting twist on the tried and true high-tech spy story.  Packed with extreme graphic violence, plenty of F-bombs, and some of the most WTF action scenes ever seen before or sense, not to mention a refreshing but not too meta sense of humor about itself, Kingsman is a wild ride, and seemingly only a peek into a fascinating world of gentleman spies.  So how could a sequel top it, or even come close?  The answer presented to us in this weekend's anticipated sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is simple: it doesn’t even try.

Our story finds street punk-turned Kingsman Eggsy, aka Lancelot (Taron Edgerton) dealing with the fallout of losing his good friend and mentor Harry (Colin Firth), and then a tragic attack that leaves him and tech guy Merlin (Mark Strong) as the last two Kingsmen.  Soon they must team up with their "American cousins", a whiskey conglomerate/intelligence agency known as the Statesmen, to thwart the nefarious (yet oddly familiar) plot of a drug kingpin bent on world domination.  If that description sounds a little lazy, it's no accident.  Where Secret Service twisted and subverted spy movie clich├ęs, Golden Circle falls right back into the old trap of embracing them, which makes the exposition stuff between the action sequences just a tad bit disappointing.

the golden circle
Please meet the sweetest, most advanced briefcase ever.
It even holds my toilet paper. 

The action sequences, though, are fantastic.  Vaughn reunites with cinematographer George Richmond, who filmed the first Kingsman, to create plenty of dizzying, frenetic action sequences.  The opening chase scene set to Prince's anthem "Let's Go Crazy" is particularly good, as is the slightly disorienting final battle.  But there's nothing here that even comes close to the iconic "Freebird" church scene from Secret Service, or even its off-the-rails climax.  For as much fun as the action scenes are, it all feels a little routine.

There are plenty of new character additions here, but it never really feels like they're given enough to do.  Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum (code names: Champagne or "Champ" and Tequila, respectively) are all over the film's marketing but don't have much of a presence in the film itself, with agent Whiskey (Narcos' Pedro Pascal) getting the bulk of the screen time and effectively reducing the rest of the Statesmen (also including Halle Berry as quartermaster Ginger Ale) to mere stunt casting.  As for the main villain Poppy, this feels like a role that Julianne Moore really could have sunk her teeth into and made great, but instead seems a bit lazy and unfocused, with a plot lifted almost verbatim from another more famous movie (revealing which would be a pretty big spoiler).  Sure, Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine from the original may have been a little weird and distracting, but at least he was interesting. 

Yup. I'm just sitting here thinking about Monster's Ball. 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle lacks the spark and ingenuity of the original, which makes it feel a little familiar and unmemorable.  There are some genuinely great moments, and plenty of excitement and laughs (including a brilliant cameo from a very famous singer), but there's nothing here to measure up some of this year's best and most innovative action films, much less the original.  The Golden Circle is entertaining enough, but a bit hollow.  It didn’t have to come close to the insanity of The Secret Service, but at least it would have been nice if it had tried a little harder.


-Mike Stec