“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” (2017) starts out with guns blazing, literally. Within the first two minutes of the film, the protagonist, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), gets into a brawl, and the ensuing violent, high-octane fight and chase is one unbelievable stunt to the next. The movie follows the opening scene with a plot to match: a fast-moving chase, without much explanation or substance, but entertaining overall.
The sequel to “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014) shares a lot of qualities with its predecessor. Director Matthew Vaughn’s style is as charismatic as it was in the original. The action is shot distinctly and artfully, turning graphic deaths into a thing of beauty. It is the perfect speed for the viewer, with the action fast enough to be realistic and interesting, yet slow enough to allow appreciation of all the vivid details. The violence is just as gruesome at times as in the first movie, although no scene compares to the church scene in the original “Kingsman,” which has recently been hailed by The Ringer as “an unquestionably brilliant, kinetic scene; one that, without doubt, is a masterclass in fight timing and filming.”
“The Golden Circle” loves referencing the first film, which is great for fans of the original, but makes first-time “Kingsman” viewers miss out on some great gags. In a recent interview with Deadline, Vaughn discussed how he did this intentionally, calling it “the familiar hug.” However, the viewer does not have to have seen the original to appreciate the continued trend of turning classic spy tropes on their heads.
From Eggsy being served bourbon whiskey when he orders a martini to him actually having a stable relationship and not wanting to have sex with a woman other than his girlfriend, “The Golden Circle” makes some great revisions of James Bond film traditions. On the other hand, the movie frustratingly continues other spy tropes. Jeff Bridges unoriginally plays yet another old person running a spy organization, bringing to mind Control from “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011) and M from “Skyfall” (2012).
Halle Berry plays Ginger, a behind-the-scenes agency worker hoping for her shot at glory as an agent in the field. Julianne Moore plays the weak villainess Poppy, who is underdeveloped and unthreatening. These characters are neither complex nor compelling, and they also point out one way that the sequel tried to one-up the original: casting stars up the wazoo. Add Channing Tatum, one of the hottest names in Hollywood currently, Pedro Pascal, who recently gained fame for his roles in “Game of Thrones” (2011–) and “Narcos” (2015–) and the oddly placed superstar Elton John to the three untraditional characters, and the cast has more stars than a planetarium. In some ways, these famous faces appearing at every turn is a distraction from the movie itself.
Elton John seems like a one-off gag in his first appearance, but slowly and unexpectedly becomes a big part in the film. While he gets some laughs, such as in the scene where he sings “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” (1973) and kicks butt at the same time, he is lost between playing himself and another, caricatured version of himself. During moments when he’s overused or the F-bomb is dropped unnecessarily for the 100th time, the viewer is easily pulled out of the narrative. Yet, strategically placed moments such as a brilliantly funny dinner scene, a clever drinking sequence and a surprisingly heartfelt singing of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (1971) bring viewers back in and allow them to fall for the charm of the film, just as many did with the original.
The movie does have some glaring issues when it comes to race and gender, considering that the only people of color cast as major characters in the film have a very small number of speaking lines. Also, the movie fails the Bechdel test hard, as there is only one scene where two women even speak, not to each other, while in the same room. Another blatant failure in the film was the inexplicable reveal of the return of a thought-to-be-dead character in the trailer for the movie. When the character showed up on screen, the theater’s audience barely registered the appearance. What would have been a pretty good twist ended up being a mind-blower in the first preview of the movie instead.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is highly reminiscent of the original, with the return of most of the things you loved and some great new additions. The action is as brilliant as before, and the humor is solidly funny at times. If you’re looking for a film with real substance, look elsewhere, but if you want an entertaining way to spend two hours or so, the sequel to “The Secret Service” is a good choice.