Review - 'Kingsman: The Golden Circle'
Sequels to hit films often have a tough run figuring out how to stand out and surpass the films that preceded them. There are plenty of examples of great sequels that succeed in innovating and expanding on the original, but even more that don't register as strongly or simply fall flat on their faces. Kingsmen: The Golden Circle sadly falls, albeit mildly, into the latter category.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle sees the Kingsman more or less completely destroyed by Poppy (Juliane Moore), a megalomaniac who has developed a virus that targets drug/alcohol abusers. Eggsy and Merlin (Taron Egerton, Mark Strong) travel to the United States to team up with the Statesman to take down Poppy and get the codes to release the antidote that she possesses.
The first Kingsman was so unique in the way that it lampooned the 007 films while also standing out as its own ultra-violent looney tunes spin on the spy genre. I liked the first film, but wasn't head-over-heels about it like some were, so I wasn't exactly hyped for the sequel. Still, I expected to be entertained and surprised solely because I trusted Matthew Vaughn to show me things I hadn't seen before. While The Golden Circle does stay light on its feet and never bores, the whole affair felt like a bloated retread, and there's very little meaningful character development or growth that justifies this sequel's existence.
Even if the film's intention was to ape a Roger Moore style 007 adventure, there were times during The Golden Circle where it seemed to collapse under its own ridiculousness. It's another case where the filmmakers thought that for a sequel to succeed, it must be bigger. The action is fun and engaging, but there isn't a sequence here that comes close to topping the church massacre (you know the one) from the first one. We get more of that cool speed-ramping action, but no true innovation with the set-pieces. It's all there like you remember it, but there's no growth.
I'm also beginning to think that the novelty of the first film has worn off. Sure, the film tries to shake things up by taking the action to the states, but it's still basically the same. That said, I feel like the chinks in this films armor would be a whole lot less obvious if the characters had more engaging stories. I excused how ridiculous the first film was because I had never seen it told that way before and because the characters had meaningful arcs that allowed you to connect with them on a more emotional level. In The Golden Circle, it's just another mission with stakes that seem bigger, but somehow don't resonate like they once did.
While I didn't feel like any of the characters in this film had particularly interesting stories, I did still admire most of the performances. Taron Egerton has matured a bit more here, and his charisma is apparent and believable. He was a bit of a punk in the first film and it took a while for me to get behind his character, here, you're with him from the start. Mark Strong also gets a bigger part as Merlin, and he gets some pretty great moments and is given more of an opportunity to shine. Colin Firth is back, and if not for the spoiler-y trailers, I wouldn't be talking about him here. The way in which he comes back is totally preposterous, but it's nice to have this debonair agent back as he was one of the main selling points of the first film. He gets a surprisingly touching moment that nearly made me reconsider my stance on the film.
There's also a glut of newcomers here, some of them hit and some of them miss. Pedro Pascal is one of the clear stand-outs, even though he's hardly in any of the marketing. He plays "Whiskey" a cowboy with heaping helpings of swagger who hands-down gets the best action scenes. Julianne Moore is also pretty great as the '50s-loving villain, Poppy. I didn't find her to be quite as great as the Samuel L. Jackson was in the previous film as the completely oddball super villain, but she was still a treat to watch. Channing Tatum, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges are pretty much wasted here and get far less screen-time than I expected they would.
I know that I've been pretty negative on the film, but I still wouldn't consider this a bad effort. It's mainly the fact that it's watered-down that disappoints me. The movie is still very competently made and it can be a fun experience to watch for the most part. The action is well-shot, even if it's nothing new, and the characters are great, even though they don't have anything to build on. Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an obvious disappointment, but as a middle chapter in a proposed trilogy, you could do worse.