As a college student, I’m constantly looking for an escape — something to take me out of the tedium of lectures and homework. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” did just that. While not perfect, the sequel to “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014) is absurd, compelling, action-packed and makes me eager for more Kingsman stories to come.
While “The Secret Service” chronicled the entrance of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) into the secretive Kingsman organization, “The Golden Circle” features Eggsy on his adventures as a seasoned Kingsman. The film hits the ground running with an electrifying car chase to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and it only gets more wild from there.
When the Kingsman headquarters in London is destroyed by a crime syndicate led by the ruthless entrepreneur Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) travel to Kentucky, where they encounter the American equivalent of the Kingsman, the Statesman. Led by Agent Champagne (Jeff Bridges), the Statesman includes Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). Eggsy and Merlin, along with the presumed-dead Harry Hart (Colin Firth), team up with the Statesman to halt Poppy’s wicked plot to infect the drug-using population before millions are killed.
This story may seem outrageous, but director Matthew Vaughn, known for “X-Men: First Class” and “Kick-Ass,” makes sure to ground the film by concentrating on the characters. Egerton is fantastic in his second go as Eggsy. His character has grown since the last film — Eggsy oozes swagger and confidence as a now-seasoned Kingsman. Strong also puts on a superb performance as Eggsy’s mentor, Merlin, and is given an interesting character arc that he lacked in the first film. Pascal steals every scene he’s in as Agent Whiskey, and Elton John provides plenty of laughs in an extended cameo. Moore, as the villain, strikes a perfect accord between sweet and sinister. While she doesn’t actually do much in the film, Moore bites into her role and provides a unique villain for the heroes to duel.
However, the film struggles to balance the rest of its tremendous cast. The film criminally underused Academy Award winner Berry as Ginger, keeping her in the Statesman headquarters, separate from the action. Tatum is also fantastically exaggerated and fun as Tequila but wrongfully cut out of a large chunk of the movie. Similarly, Bridges doesn’t have much to do as the head of the Statesman, aside from introducing the organization to Eggsy and Merlin. While it is pleasing to have Firth back, Harry’s storyline is largely unnecessary, and the film could have done without it.
At 141 minutes, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” occasionally feels a bit stretched, even though much is packed into the plot. There is rarely a time when Vaughn isn’t shoving something into the viewer’s face, whether it’s humor, wit or mechanical arms. The humor lands, as do the winks to popular culture (a climactic scene featuring John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road” is unforgettable). The action scenes are impressive, though none stand out as much as Harry’s massacre in the church did in the first film.
The change of setting from England to America allows for fun substitutions. The film forgoes the Kingsman’s tailor shop for the Statesman’s whiskey business and the Kingsman’s fancy suits and bowties for the Statesman’s jean jackets and cowboy hats. Even the juxtaposition of British and country accents is hilarious, and the variety of weapons makes the fight sequences more interesting.
Unsurprisingly, the film features graphic imagery, using its R rating to its advantage and emphasizing the brutality of Poppy as well as the overall cartoon nature of the Kingsman world. “The Golden Circle” better reflects the “Kingsman” comic book series than its predecessor did. The film doubles down on the absurd action sequences and wild situations which may turn some away but shows the bold steps that Vaughn is willing to take in his storytelling.
“The Golden Circle” is a confident, comical and satisfying film. Stellar sequels are hard to come by, and, while it has some flaws, the film builds off the original in a creative way. It invites the viewer into its wacky world that I look forward to entering again when an inevitable third “Kingsman” hits the silver screen.