Kingsman: The Golden Circle (U.K/U.S., 2017)

September 21, 2017
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Kingsman: The Golden Circle Poster

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service achieved a surprising level of success not because it offered anything groundbreaking but because its anarchic energy and deadpan wit made familiar story elements seem fresh. For the sequel, The Golden Circle, director Matthew Vaughn has attempted to recreate the tone and feel of the first movie but only with limited success. Installment #2 feels overlong and overstuffed and, although there are individual moments that snap, crackle, and pop, the production as a whole is bloated and at times even a little tedious. There’s fun to be had but it’s not consistent and at times it’s disappointing how certain scenes play out.

Without getting too deeply into spoiler territory, there are things worth mentioning. Recognizing that Colin Firth was the best thing about The Secret Service, the filmmakers contrive a way to bring him back. Okay, so it’s hokey, but we’re willing to go with it because he’s Colin Firth. Vaughn figures out a way to do something that’s never before been done with John Denver song. We also get the dubious pleasure of hearing Cameo’s “Word Up” re-imagined as a Country Western tune. Yeah, you heard that right. “Word Up.” Then there’s Sir Elton John, rebooted as a high-kicking, hard-swearing action star. Jackie Chan doesn’t have anything on this guy.

Unfortunately, the movie clocks in at 141 minutes and, as things move past the 90-minute mark, The Golden Circle feels like it has already worn out its welcome. There are too many dead-end subplots and unnecessary secondary characters. Why are Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges even in the movie? Because they’re Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges and their participation ups the box office ante. In truth, their roles are little more than glorified cameos. Halle Berry has a little more to do, but not much. The only actor from the “Kentucky” part of the story with anything significant to contribute is Pedro Pascal, who many will remember as Oberyn Martell (The Red Viper) from Game of Thrones. (If you don’t remember the character, you’ll remember his…shall we say…fate.)

The Golden Circle opens with an overproduced but largely unexciting action sequence/chase scene in which The Secret Service’s Galahad a.k.a. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) tussles with former rejected recruit Charlie (Edward Holcroft – remember him from the first movie?), who is working for the world’s largest drug producer, the aptly-named Poppy (Julianne Moore). She’s a psychopath with a penchant for ‘50s kitsch and a love of all things mechanical, especially her robo-dogs. She also likes grinding her own hamburger meat. Through Charlie, she gains access to all of The Secret Service’s classified files, including names and home addresses and, in one night of fire and brimstone, kills virtually everyone, including Eggsy’s dog. The only survivors are Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). We soon learn that the former Galahad, Harry (Colin Firth), is alive and well in America, having survived Samuel L. Jackson’s shot to the head with just a lost eye and temporary amnesia.

With no members left in the U.K., the survivors are forced to link up with their American comrades, the Statesmen. Around this time, Poppy unleashes a fatal disease on the world and tries to blackmail the U.S. President (Bruce Greenwood) into capitulating with her demands. (She really has only one: the full legalization of all drugs.) Eggsy, Harry, and Statesman Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) are dispatched to find and obtain a sample of the antidote.

The producers of Deadpool 2 could perhaps learn something from The Golden Circle: it isn’t enough to bring back familiar characters and try to “recapture” the essence of a popular debut. This movie needed a lot of tightening up and possibly another draft of the script. If a viewer is looking repeatedly at his watch during the final hour of an action movie, something is wrong. The Secret Service felt like a frothy James Bond homage/satire. The Golden Circle feels a little like bad 007 (Roger Moore era).

Both Colin Firth and Taron Egerton appear to have left their personalities and charisma behind. Neither seems invested and the chemistry they shared in The Secret Service is missing. That leaves it up to Mark Strong to fill the breach, which he does admirably. Every time I see Strong, I marvel at his range. He can be a truly despicable villain and a capable hero. Shades of Alan Rickman. Also back from the first movie is Hanna Alstrom as Princess Tilde, although her backside remains discreetly hidden. She is currently Eggsy’s SO. Of the newcomers, Jeff Bridges seems bored, Julianne Moore is deliciously deranged, and Elton John adds color and flair as only Elton John can (although perhaps in ways we never imagined Elton John could).

What went wrong with The Golden Circle? It may be something as simple as the trap of making a sequel to a movie whose tone & feel could never be effectively recaptured. It’s the Crocodile Dundee 2 syndrome – despite bringing back the old elements and adding some new things, it just doesn’t work. The Golden Circle isn’t as bad as Crocodile Dundee 2 and it’s not a colossal step down from The Secret Service, but it is a disappointment.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (U.K/U.S., 2017)

Run Time: 2:21
U.S. Release Date: 2017-09-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Drugs)
Genre: Action/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1