Eggsy, Merlin and Harry are back in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the generally fun and engaging follow-up to Kingsman: The Secret Service. Expanding on that first film, it introduces a larger world while dismantling most of its original organization. It would seem like a bold move except for one simple fact about The Golden Circle: it’s less entertaining when it tries to introduce jeopardy.
Opening a year-and-change after the events of The Secret Service, The Golden Circle opens with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) firmly established as a member of the secretive intelligence organization. But a conclusion to a normal night at the office is interrupted when he’s attacked by Kingsman wash-out Charlie (Edward Holcroft) in an over the top scene highlighting the film’s primary issues of tone and length. Eggsy and Charlie fight in a cab while it is chased by three SUVs around London. It’s divided into two parts: one accompanied by Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” on the soundtrack and the other by more traditional chase scene underscore. While Prince is on, Charlie and Eggsy’s fight is a cartoon with a lot life to it. But as soon as the score kicks in and Eggsy takes the wheel of his cab — after he finally ejects Charlie from it — the chase proceeding chase is far less effective.
This two-part structure recurs throughout the film as Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) soon find themselves the only surviving Kingsmen after a coordinated attack on all the agents’ homes. The perpetrator: a frustrated drug manufacturer named Poppy. She’s played by Julianne Moore and she’s a delight throughout the film. With a permanent smile on her face, Moore plays the villain as bemused but unhinged. Plotting from her 50s kitsch villain’s layer in Cambodia, she sticks to the film’s more cartoonish tone; creating an appropriate adversary for the Kingsman and their US cousins, the Statesmen.
Activating the group’s “doomsday” protocol, Eggsy and Merlin visit with the Statesmen at their Kentucky headquarters, quickly meeting (and fighting) Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum). It’s one of the better fights as it’s only played for cartoonish charms; as is the subsequent interrogation scene. Soon, we’re introduced to the Statesmen’s chief, Champagne (Jeff Bridges), and their Merlin equivalent, Ginger (Halle Berry). Each member of the stateside team is filled with charm and personality. I mean, they have to be with the cast the film assembled. Tatum goes big with his “bad boy” agent and Berry is surprisingly charming in a small role that goes out of its way to mention that both performer and character are being sidelined. The last key Statesman introduced is Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), the most traditional cowboy of the group and a thoroughly cartoonish presence throughout the film. Consequently, he’s the most successful Statesman character.
And while the film tends to work best when it gleefully indulges in cartoon silliness — like its use of the actual Elton John as “Elton John” — it does have a strong beating heart with the relationship between Eggsy, Merlin and Harry (Colin Firth). The latter character’s death in the first film is quickly dismissed, but the amnesia he suffers as a result leads Eggsy on a journey to recover his mentor and friend. Well, in between a trip to the Glastonbury Festival to plant a tracker in a very sensitive place.
Unlike the serious portions of the action set pieces, the emotional content is surprisingly effective. I suppose that’s a recurring theme in director Matthew Vaughn’s adaptations of Mark Millar comics. Millar himself likes to play with the friction between the emotions men want to express and the machismo preventing them from voicing their feelings. Of course, Millar tends to side with the machismo — though one could argue he’s making a satirical point in backing that position — but Vaughn manages to find a middle ground. In The Golden Circle, Eggsy is surprisingly comfortable with his feelings. And the genuine warmth he expresses for both Harry and Merlin is a welcome and satisfying thing to find in what is otherwise a cartoon spy movie.
Which is not suggest that the cartoon tone is the wrong tone. In fact, it’s the most appropriate way to present the action in the film. A sequence in which Eggsy and Whiskey raid a lab at an Italian sky resort features the one way to out-Bond similar scenes in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. But in order to accomplish the task, the film plants tongue firmly in cheek and owns the outlandish physics of the entire situation. The result is one of the goofiest yet best scenes in the film. The action only falters any time we’re expected to believe Harry or Eggsy are in physical jeopardy.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not a great film, but it entertains whenever it lets its heart peek out of its well-tailored sleeve. Sometimes, that heart pulses for cheeseball action. Other times, it’s for a form of masculinity some might find threatening. At the same time, it could also go back to the shop and take in the length a bit as the climax is overly-long. Also any action scene trying to pull off both the cartoon and serious tone could definitely be scaled back. But to use a British-style understatement, the end result is still something quite enjoyable.