Director: Matthew Vaughn
Screenplay: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges
Runtime: 141 Minutes
When Kingsman: The Secret Service dropped in 2015 its polarisation from critics measured from pole to pole, varying from the lambasting of its smutty and crude content to rejoicing in its OTT action sequences and throwback charms to the golden years of Bond. It left an impact and box-office response large enough to secure a sequel. The path that The Golden Circle has chosen to follow is like the better sequels which use the initial platform of the original to expand the world and see further change in the characters. But while it’s certainly expanded the world, the story that it’s chosen to tell does little to nothing for the characters – and that’s only the start of the list of problems.
The plot concerns the new threat of drug ring ‘The Golden Circle’, lead by new antagonist Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the destruction of the Kingsman and the introduction of their stateside counterpart; The Statesman. To the film's credit, the twists on the original British imperialist attitudes and inspired gadgets into the brash and unsubtle American iconographies of cowboys, whiskey and baseball are fun, even though this new organisation is barely explored beyond the surface level alterations.
But even with this change of scenery – which certainly gets the globetrotting of Bond down – there isn’t really a unifying theme at work to tie together the disparate threads of ‘The Golden Circle’, The Statesman, Eggsy’s (Taron Egerton) relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), a tediously blunt piece of satire involving the POTUS in a tired takedown of rightwing ideals, and the reappearance of former mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth) – who hasn’t let the setback of a headshot get him down too much thanks to some convenient amnesia and a special healing gel that robs the film of any tension regarding death. Firth is still excellent in the role and his chemistry with Egerton still works, but there’s nothing to work with beyond bringing back a favourite character that now has nothing to do.
As for the much-touted cast of American stars, they’re given shockingly little to do beyond certain scenes. Channing Tatum is put out of action early on and is frankly a waste of his charismatic and comedic talents, while Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore look like they shot most of their scenes in a day and have no agency. Moore’s character, in particular, is deranged and played well enough, with her manner of dispatching henchmen deplorable and a kitschy retro base a nostalgic call-back to the 80s nostalgia for the 50s, but she doesn’t interact with any of the main cast until the end and feels at times like she’s in an entirely different production.
Sadly, she’s just a symptom of the film’s horrendous streaks of misogyny and general disinterest with female characters altogether. Princess Tilde is given a more personal connection to Eggsy but still lacks character. The likes of the previous film’s Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and Halle Berry’s tech support are relegated to observers to the actions of the male characters, leaving them with nothing to do beyond sitting behind desks and shouting support. Even on a bad day at least most of the Bond films would give its female characters something to do.
In The Golden Circle’s most infamous moment, Eggsy must seduce a young woman and implant a tracking device inside her genitals. The leeriness of the camera and the exasperating length of the sequence make it feel like a giant middle finger by director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman to anyone who found the anal sex joke from the end of the first film offensive, and the grotesqueness of the whole thing is going to cross a line for a lot of people.
All this being said, beyond one rather exciting chase sequence at the beginning and some robot dogs later on, the action scenes are a collection of heavily edited, overly digital one-ups of the similar sequences in the first film. Even a majority of the jokes are just call-backs and references to previous moments and interactions without purpose. Any that are original are overplayed until they’re not, including an egregious cameo from Elton John that drags out for the entire film without anything to say but the novelty of him being there.
There’s a substantial lack of growth to much of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and as stale as its call-backs are and the generally rancid depictions of its female characters, it’s too much of a bore to even get greatly worked up over once it’s all over. It runs too long with too little going on, and as none of the characters really change there’s little to be gained from any of it looking backward. It might be colourful and silly enough for some to work as a second rendition of the first film, but those whose patience’s were already tried to begin with should probably steer clear.