In winter 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service roared across theater screens, an obscene adrenaline-fueled send-up of James Bond stuffed with eccentric characters, the most speed ramping since Zack Synder, and stunts that laughed at physics like Marlon Brando laughed at a salad. I smiled through every crazy frame.
Two and a half years later, the anticipated follow-up, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has arrived, promising more spy insanity. And insanity, it delivers – a hyperactive remix of the original turned up so far the dial must have snapped off in director Matthew Vaughn’s hand. I assume he then glued the dial back on, turned it another seven turns, and, for dessert, injected the amp with amphetamine. In the process, the Kingsman franchise has shifted from heightened reality to a campy cartoon completely removed from the real world.
The Golden Circle tells the story of our heroes Eggsy and Merlin (Taron Egerton and Mark Strong), along with their American analogs the Statesmen (Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, and Pedro Pascal), battling another supervillain with a convoluted plot to rule the world. This time, stepping in for Samuel L. Jackson’s lispy, violence-averse Valentine, we have Julianne Moore’s Poppy, a drug kingpin obsessed with the 1950s and Elton John. If that sounds funny, it isn’t. It is a tired attempt to be quirky that is desperate, not original.
The film struggles badly in its attempt to recreate the magic of the original, with action set pieces flying at you every 10 minutes and returning characters shoehorned in, whether the story calls for it or not. There are tired troupes aplenty: Bondian watches that double as weapons, amnesiacs struggling to remember their pasts, cyborg henchmen, and double agents with identities only discovered during the climax are just a few examples in the lazy, clichéd screenplay.
Egerton and Strong do their best to keep our interest for 141 exhausting minutes, but the movie just tries too hard – fight scenes fail to match the nutty exhilaration of the church bloodbath from The Secret Service, and the story seems a jumbling of scenes rather than a cohesive plot. The end clearly sets up Kingsman 3, so let’s hope Vaughn has something better up his sleeve than a rehash on speed.