Review by Matt Cummings
As hilarious and ultra-violent as 2014’s KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE was to stunned but thoroughly-entertained audiences (see “the church sequence”), it was also a pretty smutty affair. KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE seeks to double-down on all of that, boasting an even more impressive cast that ultimately achieves very few of their goals.
Fresh off the death of his friend and mentor Harry (Colin Firth), Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has become more comfortable with his role as Kingsman agent. His personal life is also moving forward, as he’s now living with Swedish bombsell Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), whom he saved in the previous iteration. All of that changes when a series of attacks against the spy agency leave their bespoke business in tatters, the mansion obliterated, and even Eggsy’s dog dead, thanks to the chipper but diabolical Poppy (Julianne Moore). Forced on the run, Eggsy high-tails it out of England with the last remaining Kingsman member Merlin (Mark Strong) to none other than Kentucky, USA. There, they meet their American counterparts The Statemen, who use their profitable Bourbon business to fight crime around the world. But as the duo join forces with Agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Ginger Ale (Hale Barry), they uncover a dark secret: Harry is alive but suffering from amnesia. As Poppy unleashes her plan to comatose the world, Eggsy must decide if Harry is truly back and whether his future as a Kingsman will include the Princess, or whether he’s destined to save the world on his own.
If CIRCLE does anything right, it’s that it doubles down on every spy cliché with little care or worry about what the audience thinks. There’s more booze, a very smutty sex scene (yes, it actually ups the smuttiness of the previous movie), and more violence, but it also manages to throw us for a loop by destroying the entire Kingsman infrastructure. Everyone is dead, and Eggsy and Merlin are next if Statesman doesn’t help, and that sort of predictament is refreshing. But, CIRCLE also bakes this bread way too long: at 141 minutes it’s unnecessarily robust, as if Director Mathew Vaughn had so much to say that a sequel ala THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK just wasn’t in the cards. This script by Writers Vaughn and Jane Goldman is just overrunning with plot and characters, and the result is that too few moments arrive for our characters to actually develop. Sure, we get some nice sequences as Firth begins his long journey back to agent, but Moore isn’t given much to do but act like a 50’s version of The Joker, while Tatum is literally in the film for about 5 scenes. Even Jeff Bridges – playing the Statesman boss and social drunkard – isn’t given much to do but drink and sniff cigars.
With a reliance on quality over quantity in the character department, the jokes and insistence on playing John Denver songs ala GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY wears thin in CIRCLE, especially when the action feels so point and shoot. True, Vaughn scored a winner with his unique visual style in SERVICE, but that’s all we get with CIRCLE. It’s like we’re at a strip club and the only meaningful items on the menu are in such plentiful supply that we feel more overwhelmed than entranced by the possibilities. Pardon me for the pun, but CIRCLE pummels its way through overkill so often that anything different almost feels out of place. A side story involving the US President (the historically underused Bruce Greenwood) is unneeded, and even the Tilde story isn’t strong because the actress playing her is ill-equipped to handle such dramatics. To be honest, she appeared in SERVICE because of her pretty bare butt. And then there’s the way-too-muchness of Singer Elton John, who appears as a captive on Poppy’s island hideaway. To be honest, he’s in the film more than Tatum, and his antics get old way too fast. The one thing that absolutely satisfies is the score by Composers Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson. It’s big and bold like a Bond film without actually sounding like one, and it instantly rockets into my top 5 for the year.
The real question behind CIRCLE is this: when is too much too much? For all the supposed improvements in the cast and the way the film rips up the established narrative, one would think we’ve got a real winner on our hands. Unfortunately, CIRCLE is a paint-by-numbers experience, overstuffed because it can be but without the intelligence to know when audiences have had their fill.
THE BOTTOM LINE
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE is competent but ultimately suffers from an embarrassment of riches, both in its large and mismanaged cast and in action sequences that do little but hit the ‘repeat’ button from the original. If you never got around to see SERVICE, then CIRCLE will wow you with its brazen smuttiness and James Bond-like vistas. But it will also bore you in sections as Vaughn seeks to find his film’s tone as he’s shooting it. Cut a couple of characters and give it an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK feel, and you’ve got a sequel that instantly creates a demand for a third. Instead, we walk away merely satisfied but still hungry for a promised meal that is another film away.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material, and has a runtime of 141 minutes.