Kingsman: The Secret Service was the surprise breakout hit of 2014. A witty satire that acted as a send-up of so many long-running Bond tropes, the film was a unique take on the tired spy genre. As the film so gleefully proclaimed: “This ain’t that kind of movie.”
This left the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, in a bit of a predicament. How do you make a follow-up to a film dedicated to bucking the trends of the longest running spy franchise? Director Matthew Vaughn’s answer is simple: Do everything the first film did, but with the dial turned to eleven.
We pick up a few after the end of Kingsman. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is a full blown agent now, taking up the mantle of Galahad after the passing of his beloved mentor Harry (Colin Firth). While he’s still wrought by Harry’s death, Eggsy is in the prime of his life. He loves his job, his friends in the Secret Service, and his girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alström), the Swedish princess he rescued in the previous film.
Just when things are looking up, a horrifying attack from a mysterious group known as the Golden Circle leave Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) as the only surviving Kingman. With no other options left, they are forced to join forces with The Statesman, their American cousins, in the hopes of taking down the Golden Circle and saving the world (again).
The Golden Circle has everything we loved about the original Kingsman and then some. Thrilling action sequences, witty British humor, and many not-so-subtle jabs at the more misogynistic elements of James Bond are all on display here. However, where the original film began relatively grounded before steadily escalating to rainbow-colored head-exploding insanity, Golden Circle begins insane and ends certifiable.
You’ve got cyborgs, robot dogs, Julianne Moore making hamburgers out of people, and an enslaved Elton John, all within the first half hour of the film. While this absurdity works in the film’s favor more often than not, I did miss this semblance of reality that the first film had. Many of the film’s over-the-top antics lost a little of their luster due to everything being so over-the-top. For example, I definitely did not need to see Elton John drop kicking some henchman. When everything is insane, insanity becomes the new mundane.
I still managed to enjoy the film quite a bit despite this. The action set pieces are as stellar as ever, despite not quite reaching the highs of the Church Scene™. Not for a lack of trying, however. The opening action sequence features Eggsy facing off against a one-armed cyborg during a high-speed chase comes close, as does the film’s stylish climactic showdown. Sandwiched between these two noteworthy set pieces is a string of solid action peppered throughout the film. One of Vaughn’s consistent talents as a director is his ability to craft coherent and inventive action, and he doesn’t disappoint.
The film’s truest strength lies in its lovable characters. While well-executed action is always appreciated, it’s meaningless if we don’t care about the characters involved. Luckily, The Golden Circle manages to make you care about its characters a whole lot. Eggsy is still the star, and Egerton is as charming and as well-meaning as ever in the role. Eggsy has grown a lot since the first film. He’s more mature, more of a proper gentleman. Even if he’s still got a bit of a humorous chavish edge to him. His dynamic with Merlin is as enjoyable as ever, and Strong once again knocks the role out of the park.
Also returning is *SPOILER* Harry, seemingly back from the dead. His death marked a major turning point in the first film, and his apparent resurrection left me feeling hesitant at first. While the circumstances surrounding his return felt a tad convenient and soap opera-ish to me, he does end up bringing an interesting dynamic to the film. As it turns out, Harry never died, he simply experienced some major brain damage. As a result, he’s not quite the agent he used to be. His motor skills are rubbish and he experiences episodes of delirium. Playing second fiddle to the agent he trained feels uncomfortable, both to him and Eggsy. His return still feels a little cheap to me, but the film manages to spin this as a positive aspect.
Of course, the Kingsman are now joined by a wealth of new faces in the form of the Statesman. The Statesman are as stereotypically American as the Kingsman are British, with their cowboy attire and codenames inspired by various liquors. Filling out their ranks are agents Whiskey, Tequila, Ginger Ale, and Champagne, played by Pedro Pascal, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Jeff Bridges, respectively. They are all really great, but severely underutilized. Aside from Pascal, they all end up taking a backseat in the film, with the promise of more to come in the future. I’m left wondering if a lot of the Statesman stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. Vaughn had to cut over an hour of footage from the final cut of the film, maybe we’ll see more of them in a potential three-and-a-half-hour director’s cut?
While Kingsman: The Golden Circle may lack the original’s fresh spark, it retains the defining subversiveness. My favorite one of these subversions has to be Eggsy entering into a monogamous relationship with the “bond girl” of the first film. The Golden Circle manages to turn a joke into a relationship that is sort of adorable. The film may have jumped the gun with its wacky antics, but there’s still a ton of fun to be had here. Enough for me to look forward to more entries in this franchise.