Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Elton John, Pedro Pascal, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges
Run Time: 141 mins
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the sequel to the very unexpectedly brilliant first installment in early 2015. The first one was a very guilty pleasure for me – it’s very boisterous and ultraviolent but still manages to carry all the swagger and suave tone that all the best spy films do with impressive action sequences and comedy to boot. Director Matthew Vaughn has a very impressive resume, directing X-Men: First Class, Stardust and Kick-Ass for example, the latter a very anti-comic book film with plenty of swearing and violence. Kingsman is to the spy genre as Kick-Ass is to the comic-book genre. Vaughn returns in the director’s chair, as does screenwriter Jane Goldman (also behind The Limehouse Golem which was released earlier last month) so the film should be in safe hands.
This time, Taron Egerton’s Eggsy is back for another mission after Kingsman’s headquarters are infiltrated very early on into the film and along with Mark Strong’s loveable Merlin team up with their American counterparts, Statesman. Together, they have to tackle Julianne Moore’s drug kingpin villain who has taken the whole world hostage with a sinister plan. It’s a certainly a well-worn narrative that has been done before, particularly the notion of literally expanding a film across the globe. John Wick: Chapter 2 earlier this year used this device as well to open up its cinematic world. Reviewers have not taken as kindly to this installment with reviews decidedly mixed compared to the positive reception of the first film. Many have been critical of its tone and the fact that it is even more violent, sexual and sweary than the first film.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle revisits a lot of the same notes from its original and is a bit of a mess narratively. Due to this, the film lacks the punch the first film had and suffers in its overlong pacing. These reservations aside, the film still manages to maintain the boisterous nature of the first one and I found it to be very entertaining and enjoyable despite the obvious dip in originality. It draws on a lot of the iconography of the spy genre and Vaughn impresses again with his ability to present a convincing subversion of society, particularly regarding current American politics.
What allows the film to work and stand on top of its convoluted narrative are the strong characters. All of the characters that return from the original film are excellent again and have some great character beats, particularly Mark Strong’s Merlin. The new characters are also by-and-large a worthy addition to this canon. Jeff Bridges and Pedro Pascal in particular make a good impression as Statesman agents, Pascal’s character in particular is developed assuringly. Halle Berry and Channing Tatum aren’t given all that much to do but manage to do a serviceable job with what they’ve got and I anticipate that in future installments, they would suit the material well. As this next cast member has been heavily marketed in the promotional material so I don’t deem this to be a spoiler, it’s no surprise to see Colin Firth back in the film after his wonderful performance in the first film. Firth does an expectedly good job but I feel that Firth’s presence in the film does detract from the first film where it seemed as if he was well and truly dead. There’s always a problem when you bring people back from the dead that any sense of danger is lost and this is a problem with the film. I’ve lambasted Marvel for doing it many times and I personally would rather he had stayed dead to maximise effect. I’ve also got some problems with Julianne Moore’s vicious yet work-shy villain who is nowhere near as effective as Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping, hilarious villain in the first film but Moore does her best despite her acting ability not holding a candle to Jackson’s. The saying that a spy film is only as good as its villain is certainly the case here and this is where the film loses some ground too.
Vaughn still manages to pack in a few genuine surprises with the narrative that him and Goldman have crafted but the overarching narrative for the film feels rather contrived. The film is a rather hefty 141 minutes which could easily be taken down by 15/20 minutes with a couple of expository scenes. The mission that Eggsy is sent on as well feels like ticking a shopping list at times and it feels like characters need to do awfully complicated things before they can move on. This makes the film rather cluttered and haphazard in its pacing. Contrary to reviewers who have criticised the film for being more violent and crude than the first, I have to disagree. Whilst the film certainly earns its 15 rating, the fact that it’s lesser in tone results in violence that has less impact compared to the first film. The film felt more routine due to the introduction of this world that now has some familiarity.
Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson return for the score, which again isn’t groundbreaking but they manage to craft a few themes that mesh well with the film but not really developing from the foundations of what they had for the first film. The film is again shot by George Richmond who does a really good job and there are a couple of shots that are just wonderful to behold.
Overall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a step-down as it revisits a lot of the same notes and themes the original had. But it’s still a rewarding watch that is generally very entertaining, mostly maintaining its obnoxious and crass tone and features some great performances once again. If you were a fan of the first film, I imagine you’d have fun with this and I struggle to see why some have taken so offensively to the film.