The slick spy franchise returns, tongue still in cheek, but with repeating its past success its main aim.
Image: Kingsman: The Secret Service. Via Fox.
As much a spy love letter as a satire, Kingsman: The Secret Service proved a slick, unsubtle yet mostly entertaining addition to the espionage fold, only to come undone with its choice of closing moment. 'Manners maketh man,' suave secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth, Bridget Jones's Baby) may contend, but there was none shown in its tongue-in-cheek sexual candour; rather than smartly probing the genre’s stereotypes and gender politics, it reinforced them. With sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, returning writer/director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) and his co-scribe Jane Goldman (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children) haven’t learned from that misstep, or moved on from the stylised, more-is-more approach to a franchise aiming to offer a cheeky alternative to Bond. The film’s trajectory, however, almost reverses its predecessor’s: after opening with a memorable in-car fight set to the distinctive sounds of Prince’s 'Let’s Go Crazy', there’s few highlights from there.
Picking up not long after the events of the first film, The Golden Circle finds recent recruit Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Eddie the Eagle) settled into his sleek spy role with trusty gadget whiz Merlin (Mark Strong, Miss Sloane) by his side, though they’re both still mourning the loss of Harry. More trauma follows when missiles takes out the agency’s bases and operatives, sending them scrambling to their American counterpart, Statesman, for assistance. With the help of the bourbon-brewing likes of head honcho Champagne (Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water) and his offsiders Tequila (Channing Tatum, Logan Lucky), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, TV’s Narcos) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry, Kidnap), they soon discover that drug cartel leader Poppy (Julianne Moore, Wonderstruck) is the source of their troubles – and the instigator of a poisoned, blue rash-causing batch of illicit substances poised to kill a significant portion of the global population.
The now two-strong film series may be based on Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar’s comic book series, but it’s not difficult to see whose shoes The Golden Circle walks in: its hit predecessor’s. A sequel’s lot is to reach the same high notes as the movie that spawned it, after all, though this repeat effort doesn’t aim for anything else. With almost surgical precision, the rinse-and-repeat follow-up retains a comparable storyline while throwing a few new faces into the mix – some, in like-for-like swaps (Moore’s exaggerated villain replacing Samuel L. Jackson’s from the first feature); others, in attempts at setting the scene for more chapters to come (the new US branch). Amidst the overt references to earlier events, nods, echoes and mirroring abound, be it in the overarching evil scheme to punish people for their distraction-seeking ways, the tension between Eggsy’s rough-and-tumble upbringing and the lofty world he has been anointed into – this time explored through his relationship with Swedish princess Tilde (Hanna Alström, Sami Blood) – or the purposefully provocative use of sex as a tool in the spy’s arsenal.
More than just sticking to a tried-and-tested narrative, however, The Golden Circle leans into the wish-fulfillment behind the genre’s familiar formula, taking adolescent fantasies to a gleeful level. Showing that ordinary folks can rise through the ranks thanks to hard work and ingenuity was the more admirable message behind the first film, albeit wrapped in dapper-suited, boys-with-toys packaging; without the same point to prove on its second mission, an affair becomes the a way to save the world, and drinking and dressing well rank among a man’s best traits. Here, the stakes are considerable yet the reality of men living out their juvenile dreams, pitched as a noble necessity for a greater cause, remains simple. To the movie’s credit, it doesn’t pretend otherwise. Instead, it merely endeavours to fashion its shameless, over-the-top, indulgent parts into glossy entertainment.
Bright and shiny, the end result may be, but it’s a by-the-numbers outing with less energy and momentum than its set piece-filled 141-minute running time needs. When enjoying the company of the feature’s nemesis and her high-profile captive proves more fun than watching recognisable heroes go through the motions (and get American equivalents), the template is clearly stretched thin. Returning cinematographer George Richmond and editor Eddie Hamilton shoot and splice with restlessness as much as flair, though the film’s confidence and assurance never wavers. Among the cast, when Moore isn’t stealing the show, Egerton, Firth and Strong are in fine form – the latter especially – even if their new counterparts, the engaging Pascal aside, are largely wasted.
Rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 5
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Director: Matthew Vaughn
UK / USA, 2017, 141 mins
Release date: September 21
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What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level