‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was released in what’s commonly known as “a movie dead zone”. February is typically home to sub-par horror films, animations, and generally any film that is lacking in faith from its production company. It’s the post-Oscar lull of the calendar year. And yet, in 2014, ‘Kingsman’ defied all expectations and became a surprise hit, thanks to a fun concept, good performances from a good cast, and great action sequences. Three years later, ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ comes along, on a bigger budget, and in the much more consumer friendly slot of September. What does a bigger budget mean for ‘Kingsman’? A damn fun ride, with more than a few flaws.
‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ sees the return of Eggsy (Egerton), Merlin (Strong), and the Kingsman, a secret spy operation working out of a London tailor shop. Since the events of the first film, Eggsy has become a true super spy and is protecting the country from threats, big or small. When a new drug trend appears around the world from the mind of Poppy Adams (Moore), referred to as “Blue Rash” which appears after taking any sort of illegal substance, it’s up to Eggsy and Merlin to find the source of the drugs before it wipes out hundreds of millions around the world. A spanner in their works, however, is Poppy appears to be two steps ahead of the Kingsman and promptly destroys all known Kingsman locations around the UK, prompting Eggsy and Merlin to head stateside and work with their American spy cousins, Statesman.
If any of Poppy’s plan sounds familiar, it’s because it’s mostly the same idea Richmond Valentine had with his new SIM cards in ‘The Secret Service’ except on a massive scale. Herein lies the first real problem ‘The Golden Circle’ must overcome; how can it beat its predecessor? ‘The Secret Service’ had the unknown factor upon release, nobody really knew what they were getting themselves into, and it took us all by surprise. Now, ‘The Golden Circle’ successfully gives us what we all wanted, but doesn’t manage to give us anything new. What it does is very impressive, which I’ll get into later, but it doesn’t have that “X factor” that the original had. The story beats are familiar, and even destroying their headquarters and having them work alone is solved rather easily with the help of the Statesman.
Beyond that, as everyone is aware thanks to the trailers, Colin Firth returns as Harry, Eggsy’s original Kingsman mentor. Harry was very definitively shot in the face two-thirds of the way through ‘The Secret Service,’ but they brought him back through what can only really be understood as magic. On the surface, this is fine because Firth was terrific in the original and Firth’s presence typically elevates any film he’s in, but here with his return, it ruins any weight or danger for the characters. With Harry’s death in the first film, it was a genuine shock, telling us that the world of Kingsman is brutal and unfriendly. Now, knowing this magic is in play, a character’s death isn’t so dramatic, or any situation our protagonists find themselves in isn’t ever truly a dangerous one.
Having said all that, I still found myself enjoying the hell out of ‘The Golden Circle.’ Firstly, the veritable A-list cast is great, particularly Taron Egerton and Mark Strong. Egerton has made himself a genuine star with his roles in these films and in ‘Eddie The Eagle.’ His charisma and his style are abundantly clear throughout as he embodies the James Bond-lite character we’ve come to love. Strong’s Merlin is more the strong, silent type, but he’s the reliable partner that every spy needs, and as we’ll find out, he has a terrific singing voice. On the Statesman side of things, one can argue that the likes of Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are somewhat wasted in their roles, but new additions Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal make more than a great impression as Kingsman’s comrades in the field. Pascal’s Agent Whiskey is involved in two of the film’s best fight sequences, a snowy, one-man-against-eight, stylish shoot-out, with an electric lasso thrown in for good measure.
Something that has become abundantly clear with Matthew Vaughn at the helm is this; the man can shoot action. Too often I have seen films where fight scenes are a mishmash of fast cuts and silly angles that it’s impossible to see what’s going on. Vaughn has a style of shooting action scenes that works beautifully; the camera flows seamlessly from movement to movement, letting you see every bullet impact, every punch, every dodge. Nothing is left to the imagination as the brutal impact of the fight scenes isn’t lost. There’s fabulous stunt work on show from everyone, with clever take-downs and uses of the environment. So many characters get their moment in the spotlight, and every action sequence is worth it.
‘The Golden Circle’ does, for better or worse, double down on its ridiculous premise. Where the first film gradually built to its ridiculous mind-blowing conclusion (pardon the pun), ‘The Golden Circle’ starts off ridiculous and becomes more ridiculous as it goes. One of ‘The Golden Circle’s’ key criticisms in its less than ideal critical response is how much the film bends the laws of gravity in its fight sequences and they become unbelievable. In the first 10 minutes, Eggsy has a fight inside a black cab against a man with a robot arm, turns said black cap into a sports car, then into a submarine, then Poppy commands her two robot dogs to kill a traitor. If that doesn’t set you up for its ridiculous nature, nothing will. For me, the ridiculousness was jarring initially, but once you accept that this is the way it is, a ‘Moonraker’-ramped-up-to-11 style romp, you’re going to have a good time; I certainly did.
What should be addressed, however, is ‘The Golden Circle’ doesn’t have its true standout scene; its own Church Fight. The one thing everyone could agree on with ‘The Secret Service’ was how incredible the Church Fight is. It’s a seamless, near one-take scene in which Harry takes on 100 crazed, religious nuts affected by Valentine’s SIM cards. It was the peak of the original, and while ‘The Golden Circle’ has its fair share of cool scenes, it doesn’t have that one scene. You could argue the final fight comes close as its shot in a similar style, but it isn’t as bonkers as the Church Fight.
To summarise, while ‘The Golden Circle’ falls short of matching its predecessor, it’s still a lot of fun for fans of the original. There are ridiculous moments (one scene at a popular music festival is going to divide opinion very heavily), very funny lines, great, silly action sequences, and it’s clear most of the cast are having a lot of fun, particularly Julianne Moore chewing the scenery as the big bad. If you love Kingsman like I do, you’re going to really enjoy this one. If you didn’t, it’s probably best you stay away.
Rhys’ rating: 7.2 out of 10
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal