“Kingsman: The Secret Service”, a gleefully disrespectful, violent and funny action reworking of “My Fair Lady” was an unexpected delight, right up until it ended on a decidedly bum note. Regrettably, in tuning up for the sequel, write Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughan have taken that same note as the opening for their latest composition in the key of F.
Desperate to step out of the shadows and take her place as the world’s most successful businesswomen, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) sets her sights on decriminalising the drug trade by holding the world’s users and governments to ransom. To make sure nothing interferes with her scheme, she takes out Kingsman in a pre-emptive strike, leaving only Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) alive. Guided by a mysterious doomsday plan, Eggsy and Merlin travel to America only to discover a parallel organisation who may provide them with their only hope of stopping The Golden Circle.
It’s emerged recently that Matthew Vaughan (here directing the first sequel of his career) is very keen on making a “Man Of Steel” sequel for the DCEU, so it’s archly amusing that his opening shot of Kingsman’s London office is a sly pull back through the ‘S’ of Kingsman, resplendent against the red-orange tuxedo jacket in the window. Sadly, it’s as close to sparkling wit as the film gets, because from then on, it’s a bit of a slog. Where the first “Kingsman” was cheeky and brash, “The Golden Circle” is arrogant and crude.
The messy plot starts jarringly abruptly. There’s no getting reacquainted with the characters and we’re straight into the action as Eggsy is attacked and has to fend off gangs of attackers in a night-time action sequence through the streets of London (which you’ll already have seen from the trailer). The script feels muddled and mangled, the seams where it’s been wrestled into some semblance of coherence absurdly clumsy and obvious for a film where exquisite tailoring is one of its key principles. Its low arrogance is, of course, an empty shell because for all its bravado, “The Golden Circle” is a film utterly devoid of the confidence and gravitas its eponymous organisation claims to hold so dear.
There’s no faith the audience will remember even the biggest plot points or events from the previous movie so we are treated to numerous flashbacks to the original, yet “The Golden Circle” works hard to encourage you not to bother remembering the past because it disposes of it so quickly and cynically, fridging several returning characters with nary a shrug and undermining the credibility of the Kingman organisation as it does so. Not content with simply showing us clips from the previous film, there are also several scenes which restage the original set pieces, including yet another barroom ‘manners maketh the man’ sequence which is just embarrassing. There’s a sophomoric enthusiasm for profanity throughout the dialogue but it’s curiously coy when it comes to gore. It’s still fond of its digital blood spatters and yet a gloriously trigger happy showdown in the Alps leaves the snow a pure, pristine white.
To take the story to the next level, Kingsman needed their own version of SPECTRE. Instead, we’re offered the aptly named The Golden Circle: shiny and alluring but completely hollow. As a criminal mastermind, Poppy is all quirk and no substance, made all the more distasteful for the fact that her presence as the nominal main villain is a token gesture of equality to disguise a lazily sexist script where women are largely victims, assistants or tools. About half an hour too long, aimlessly meandering and over-padded to cover up for the enormous plot holes, it can’t seem to settle into a cohesive narrative groove long enough to develop any of its ideas fully. It also doesn’t help that the trailers have given away all of the movie’s ‘surprises’ and shown you most of the best action beats to boot. The most craven aspect of the film’s actions though is in its obvious desire but utter lack of courage to skewer Trump through its portrayal of the American President (Poppy may be the ‘bad guy’ but the President is the real supervillain). I guess they didn’t want to risk losing all the Fox News inserts that prop up the flabby narrative with ham-fisted exposition.
Many of the attention-grabbing names on the poster amount to walk-on cameos and only Egerton and Moore really seem to muster any enthusiasm for the overstuffed and overlong narrative. Channing Tatum – clearly being set up for a potential American spin-off movie – is fridged in a very different way from poor Roxy (Sophie Cookson) while Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges just seem bored. Elton John’s much-touted appearance walks a very fine line between awkward woodenness and amusing self-parody but the whole ‘special guest star’ gimmick feels more suited to a TV show Christmas special rather than a top-tier action movie.
Ultimately, the wholesale Americanisation of the series undermines nearly everything that made the series unique and interesting in the first place. The existence of the vast resources and reach of the Statesman organisation mangles the franchise’s own logic. If Kingsman was such a threat to Poppy’s scheme, wouldn’t Statesman have been an even bigger threat? Yet Poppy never even seems to be aware of their existence, despite her ‘world-threatening’ scheme being pedestrianly Americentric. Where was Statesman during the whole Valentine affair in the first movie? The ease and speed with which Kingsman is utterly destroyed and then reinstated also robs their existence and exploits of any dramatic heft. What value do heritage and history have when they’re as replaceable as an empty toilet roll?
If “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was the Savile Row-tailored Harry Hart personified in film form, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is Eggsy’s mum’s thuggish ex-boyfriend Dean, shoved into an off-the-peg suit from Walmart with a cowboy hat jammed on his head.