Kingsman: The Golden Circle Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.
The sequel to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service starts out absurdly over the top, and then spends its bloated 141-minute heading further into the stratosphere. Rather than exceeding the original movie in vulgarity or violence (which would be tough to do), Kingsman: The Golden Circle capitalizes on its predecessor’s surprise success with large-scale franchise-building, adding in more supporting characters, bigger set pieces and an expanded mythology to support theoretical future installments.
Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy, a former street hustler-turned-agent for the U.K.’s ultra-secret Kingsman spy agency, of which he is soon one of the only surviving members. Villainous drug cartel queenpin Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore, having plenty of fun) takes out nearly every other Kingsman agent in a series of targeted attacks, leaving only Eggsy and tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong) to pick up the pieces. They head to the U.S. to seek the aid of sister organization Statesman, which allows director Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman (working very loosely from the comic books created by Mark Millar) to introduce a bunch of new agents, played by Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges and Narcos’ Pedro Pascal, who’s the only one to get a narratively significant role. It also results in the return of Colin Firth as Eggsy’s mentor Harry Hart, despite having been shot point blank in the head and left for dead in the first movie.
But that also means lots of downtime spent integrating the new characters, plus getting Harry to the point where he can participate in the mission. Poppy’s main evil plan isn’t even set into motion until more than an hour into the movie, and while it’s nearly as loopy as the villain’s plan in The Secret Service, it sort of fizzles out toward the end, with a very similar twist (along with some muddled social commentary). There are multiple callbacks to and re-creations of elements from the first movie, but whatever freshness was present in the garish, often nasty take on James Bond-style espionage, it has already faded away.
With so many new characters, Eggsy sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, and the efforts to create emotional storylines for him—in his romance with the Swedish princess with whom he hooked up at the end of the last movie and in his paternal relationship with Harry—come off as forced and disingenuous. Vaughn can still stage intricate, colorful action sequences, and some of the jokes land (although they just as often fizzle, as in a belabored running gag featuring a sad-looking Elton John as himself). For fans of the first movie’s cacophonous, CGI-filled assault on the senses, The Golden Circle offers a louder, brighter version that’s just as empty and even more exhausting.