FILM REVIEW – KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. With Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum. Written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn. Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material. 141 minutes.
The surprise success of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” in 2014 immediately set up two traps for anyone planning a sequel. The first trap is inevitable: they’ve lost the element of surprise. The first film introduced us to the Kingsman, a secret spy organization loyal to the British crown who have just recruited Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a working-class lad, to join their stiff-upper-lip organization. Mentored by Harry (Colin Firth), he becomes a James Bond-like superspy complete with complicated gadgets. It’s was very tongue-in-cheek complete with an over the top megalomaniac villain memorably played by Samuel L. Jackson.
In continuing the story, we follow Eggsy who is now seriously involved with Tilde (Hanna Alström), the princess he rescued in the last film, and still fighting to save the world. This leads to the second trap, which is when filmmakers attempt to overcome the first one by repeating everything from the original movie only louder. It’s the trap that defeats most sequels, but director Matthew Vaughn and his screenwriting collaborator Jane Goldman manage to thread the needle by giving us not only new characters and situations, but deepening our understanding of the characters we already know.
The villain this time is Poppy (Julianne Moore) who longs to be the drug kingpin for the entire world. She has set up her supervillain lair in the Cambodian jungle which she has designed in ’50s kitsch including a diner. And she has poisoned the world’s recreational drug supply with a fatal disease. If the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) agrees to her demands, she will release the antidote.
And to ensure success she has taken out all of the Kingsmen, including their headquarters. All that is left is Eggsy, who was in Sweden visiting his future in-laws, and Merlin (Mark Strong), their tech guy. They are led to reach out to a mysterious group called the Statesmen, who turn out to be the American counterparts to the Kingsman.
From thereon the plot goes pretty as expected, but with a few plot twists including the return of a character who was killed in the last film, the casting rock star Elton John as himself, and a number of prominent actors in supporting roles including Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Emily Blunt. The violence earns the film its R rating–deservedly so–despite its largely cartoonish nature including killer robot dogs and a meat grinder used as a murder weapon. The filmmakers get that the appeal here is that we are laughing at this send-up of the Bond movies, and so most of the characters can be caricatures. However, a few of the characters are allowed to have feelings beyond the derring-do, so that when their lives are at stake, we have something invested in them.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” gives us a satisfying and fun sequel, but can it work a third time? The much broader “Austin Powers” spy spoofs fizzled by the time they went for three. A third “Kingsman” has been announced, so time will tell.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.