Matt Vaughn’s follow-up to his 2015 out-of-left-field action comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service is modestly entertaining, but the high evaporates quite quickly. The Golden Circle suffers from a classic case of sequelitis: it aims to go bigger than the original, but more does indeed wind up being less. The thrill of the new and the unexpected are missing, and there’s little to fill in the empty spaces.
The film wastes no time jumping into action: hooligan turned suave secret agent Eggsy (Taren Egerton) thwarts an attempt on his life and then races home to his Swedish princess girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alström). Storywise, theirs is standard rom-com fare, and instantly forgettable.
Fortunately maniacal, über-rich, and bizarrely cheery drug kingpin Poppy Adams (an enjoyably going-for-broke Julianne Moore) decides to lighten things up in the form of a missile strike that obliterates the Kingsman organization with the exceptions of Eggsy and tech officer Merlin (Mark Strong).
Eggsy and Merlin naturally want vengeance, and quickly stumble upon their heretofore unknown American counterparts, the Statesmen, crime fighting good ol’ boys led by Champ (Jeff Bridges) and agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascale), and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). As an added (but forced) plot twist it is revealed that the Statesmen recovered Harry Hart (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s mentor who for all intents and purposes was killed in the previous movie. He’s now an amnesiac with a missing eyeball.
Firth was the thread that pulled the elements of the first film together and one can forgive Vaughn and co-scripter Jane Goldman for failing to resist the urge to bring him back; however, too much time is spent on getting his memory back and not enough on the more compelling subplot of Harry being buggy and possibly a danger to the mission.
Said mission is another problem. Poppy’s goal is to extort the world for money in order to save the lives of millions who’ve been poisoned by her doctored supply of illegal drugs. In an interesting twist, the POTUS (Bruce Greenwood) decides to win the war on drugs by double-crossing Poppy and allowing the users of the world to die. It’s a bit of vague satire that comes across as heavy-handed and hollow.
The action tropes are mostly entertaining, and full to the brim with retro spy-fi kitsch and Vaughn’s signature brand of R-rated cartoon violence (especially the opening car chase). Unfortunately, none of tops its predecessor’s climactic battle royale of the WTF sequence of Colin Firth single-handedly kicking the crap out of a stand-in for the Westboro Baptist Church — although the sight of Elton John jump-kicking a goon while sporting his classic ’70s couture and stacked heels comes pretty darn close.
It almost works in a “turn off your brain and watch” kind of way, but there’s not enough to sustain its 141 minute running time. It also fails to make good use of the talent (which includes four Oscar winners for crying out loud). Bridges, Berry, and Moore never escape their respective offices, and fans of Tatum will be dismayed by the piddly amount of time he spends onscreen. Much like Vaughn’s Kick-Ass 2, it’s a sequel that feels overstuffed yet paradoxically empty.