There should be some form of punishment for a director that manages to waste Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Julianne Moore in a single movie. Matthew Vaughn is the culprit and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the film.
At its best, “The Golden Circle” (a sequel to “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) is a goofy, kinetic spy action/comedy that pokes fun at and gives the middle finger to the “Bond” franchise. It’s gleefully violent and vulgar, sometimes unnecessarily so. There are a bevy of nifty high tech gadgets to get the characters out of just about every tight situation, and the costuming is exquisite. “Kingsman” can be fun and delightfully eccentric but like a lot of sequels it falls into the trap of redundancy and tedium, among other issues. Vaughn and co writer Jane Goldman try to expand the “Kingsman” universe and introduce new characters in the process but fail to do anything substantial with them; hence my suggestion in the first paragraph. Jail time might be a little harsh, perhaps a fine?
Events pick up pretty much where the first “Kingsman” left off. Young Eggsy (Taron Edgerton, charming and sincere) is enjoying his life as a secret agent as well as his relationship with Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom). However, things go immediately wrong when all the Kingsman headquarters in London are bombed by a drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore). With nowhere else to turn, Eggsy and fellow agent Merlin (Mark Strong) head to America to join forces with The Statesman, an American spy organization. Here, Eggsy also encounters his old friend and mentor Harry (Colin Firth) who he thought had died.
Operating out of Kentucky and using a whisky distillery as its front, The Statesman are like the Kingsman except that they wear cowboy hats and boots, and drink whisky instead of scotch or martinis. The organization is run by Champ, (Bridges) along with under agents Whisky, (Pedro Pascal) Tequila (Tatum) and Ginger (Berry). In theory, this seems like a fun way to expand on the “Kingsman” mythology but Vaughn lets it go to waste.
The scenes that take place in Kentucky at The Statesman headquarters often play out like a stilted product placement for a fictional brand of whisky. * Meanwhile our new southern fried agents are given very little to do. What’s the point in having Tatum play a cowboy spy named Tequila if he’s only going to be in a few scenes? The lovely, molasses mouth Bridges is reduced to thankless cameo status and Berry’s part as an agent frustrated with her role in the organization is even more thankless. There are large stretches of the picture were Berry and Bridges are absent for unexplained reasons. The Statesman material is occasionally funny but we’re just not given enough and therefore it doesn’t really cohere with the rest of the picture.
Ultimately, “The Golden Circle” pivots into a tedious and overlong rehash of the first film, with Eggsy, Harry and Merlin having to infiltrate Poppy’s layer and save all of humanity. Edgerton, Firth and Strong have a great onscreen repartee like they did the first time around and the surrogate father-son bond between Eggsy and Harry can be poignant but what’s the point in introducing this new spy organization if you’re just going to treat it like a one dimensional narrative detour and then fall back on what you already did?
Moore is given a little more to do and for a while her eccentric outcast CEO turned drug dealer is compelling. Poppy lives in undiscovered ancient ruins in Cambodia that she’s outfitted with a 1950’s American aesthetic—an authentic 50’s diner, a bowling alley etc. She has a superficially cheerful, high voiced demeanor that masks a psychopathic interior. Poppy can be downright terrifying but even she fails to meet her full super villainess potential as Vaughn curiously throws her under a figurative bus, having her meet a frustratingly anticlimactic fate.
I could go on. Vaughn tries to balance spy action/comedy with a heated but half-baked critique of America’s ongoing war on drugs (and the layers of hypocrisy that go along with it) with mixed results. The political commentary is intriguing yet unfocused and like The Statesman stuff it doesn’t always jell with the rest of the film. There’s a reoccurring Elton John gag that’s funny until it’s beaten into the ground. The romantic subplot involving Eggsy and Tilde is consistently tepid and is resolved via the underwhelming damsel-in-distress device. You can probably sense the reoccurring theme of female characters being given the short end of the stick in this film. There are good elements to be found in “The Golden Circle” but by and large it contains a lot of missed potential.
*Turns out it’s a real whisky; a spinoff of Old Forester produced in partnership with the film. More here in this New York Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/27/business/media/statesman-bourbon-kingsman.html?mcubz=0&_r=0