"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" Reaches Across the Pond For Serviceable Sequel

Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

I went into a showing of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" looking to unwind on a Sunday night, and left feeling satisfied, albeit a little disappointed in the Colin Firth-led sequel.  

“Kingsman: The Secret Service," the first film in the series, was a fun and punchy take on the Bond Film genre. Less potty-humor driven than 2008's "Get Smart," it was a great satire that played off the old-school machista and violent strongholds of the genre. 

In "Kingsman: The Secret Service," the son of a fallen secret service agent, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), leads a criminal life before remembering the one good thing that came out of his father’s death: a lifeline to his father’s secret service agency, Kingsmen. After rigorous training and a brutal selection process, Eggsy beats out all of the other recruits and saves the world from a philanthropist-gone-evil (Samuel L. Jackson) who plans to extinguish the human race. In the process, however, Jackson shoots Eggsy’s father’s old partner Harry Hart (Colin Firth), opening the possibility for a revenge sequel.

Alas, that’s what "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is – a revenge-fueled sequel. "Golden Circle" is neither as innovative nor dynamic as "Secret Service," erring on the side of bigger-is-better while lacking in a fresh plot approach. 

Eggsy is now comfortable in his high-class secret agent life. The source of the plot comes not even two minutes into the film: a former Kingsmen recruit, Charlie (Edward Holcroft), is seemingly out for revenge after losing the job to Eggsy. However, this is a front for his real target: destroying all of Kingsmen so that his new drug lord boss, the hilariously terrifying, human flesh-eating Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), can go through with a plan to end the war on drugs and legalize all illicit drug sales around the world. 

The rest is predictable: Kingsmen Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) set out to stop the evil plan, paths intertwine, big action battles ensue, and they eventually save the world. In the process they find and recover Hart (Firth), who was blinded in the first film but is still alive. They do all of this with the help of their American agency equivalent, Statesmen. 

This is where a lot of the film’s running humor lies. Kingsmen is as unequivocally British as Statesmen is American. Statesmen’s agent’s are named Tequila (Channing Tatum), Champagne – aka Champ (Jeff Bridges) – Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry); they all sport American flag-coated gear and thick southern accents; and the organization is just as sexist and overtly masculine as Kingsmen. But while Kingsmen can make fun of an entire Bond film series, there’s no such equivalent for American cowboy spies to parody. Even so, the interplay between the Bond satire and the American movie satire is effective humor. 

The film is full of beautiful, CGI and slow-motion heavy action sequences. Mind-bending spy gadgets come to play and the comedic prowess of Julianne Moore and Mark Strong shine bright. Meanwhile, Firth and Egerton fall into the background without any new character developments since the first film. Bridges is the overly forgettable American grandpa-in-charge, and Tatum honestly doesn’t get enough screen time. Even so, the time he does get is full of well-executed zingers. 

In many ways, the film veers closer to "Get Smart" than the clean, shaken-not-stirred elegance of Bond. It’s full of blue humor, a wide range of imperfectly executed accents, and violence so gruesome it’ll make you cringe-laugh (perhaps there can be too many exploding heads). There’s even a prolonged bit involving a real-life pop star that Moore’s character kidnaps for her own entertainment (you’ll have to watch to find out who). 

All of the film’s pieces work well together, which is somewhat unexpected. In many ways, it is a cheesy sequel that tries too hard to top its predecessor (including in running time). Bigger isn’t, in fact, always better. “The Secret Service” is an acceptable and enjoyable sequel to those who saw the first, and does not require having seen the first installment for those who didn’t. And in the end, the machista M.O. of both secret organizations breaks down slightly when Halle Berry is promoted to full agent status. I’ll be gunning to see a future sequel if she takes the lead. 

Elisabeth Lawton