No one will ever accuse Matthew Vaughn of being subtle, and we can reasonably sure he wouldn’t want that anyway. But even fans of his last three directorial efforts (2010’s Kick-Ass, 2011’s X-Men: First Class, and 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service) might find themselves wishing he could have pumped the brakes just a little on his latest.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is such a vertiginous frenzy of fast edits, tumbling camera work, and sub-sophomoric humor that it comes off as a stern middle finger (or two...or twenty) from Vaughn to anyone who thought the original Kingsman was simply too much. (Count me among them.) Secret Service topped $400 million at the box office, after all, and if money talks, Vaughn listened and then decided that if some is good, a whole lot more is better.
Alas, it’s not.
Moving past the over-the-top antics (both behind the camera and in front), Circle is a mess. Entire story lines make no sense, promising characters are introduced and then (literally) put on ice for the duration, and screenwriter Jane Goldman can’t seem to grasp the difference between satire and flat-out silliness. And, clocking in at 141 minutes, it’s not over quickly.
Taron Egerton reprises his role as Eggsy, a James Bond Junior who was recruited to join the Kingsmen in the first film and has since graduated to being the Brit agency’s go-to operative. He’s also shacking up with Swedish Crown Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), the same lass who offered up her, ahem, self to him in the first film. And Mark Strong returns as Kingsman gadget guy Merlin. All fine. But it’s the appearance (and subsequent explanation) of Colin Firth as Harry Hart that just goes to show that any plot point is possible (however implausible) if the studio demands a sequel along with the reprisal of the franchise’s biggest star.
Sure Hart was shot and killed rather emphatically at the end of Secret Service, but dammit, who cares? Well, we all should when it leads to an hour-long daft subplot about how Hart is a hopeless amnesiac spending his days in a padded cell sketching butterflies. If Goldman can go through the trouble of inventing goofy technology that can save people from point-blank bullets to the brain, why not just go all-in and have him cured at the outset, and save us all the tedium?
In the meantime, drug kingpin Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore, ridiculous in perhaps the worst role she’s ever been given) is a 50s nostalgia-loving baddie who throws her adversaries in a meat grinder whenever they sneeze backwards. She’s so Dr Evil-ish that she’s even gone and kidnapped Elton John, so she can have him belt out “Daniel” whenever she fancies.
After she blows up all the Kingsman offices, the good-guy Brits have no choice but to team up with their Stateside colleagues, a gaggle of Southern-drawlin’ cowboys who use a whiskey distillery as their front. Jeff Bridges plays honcho Champagne (though he asks to be called “Champ”, because of course he does), Channing Tatum (in a glorified cameo) is Tequila, and Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal round out the not-so-wild bunch.
The whole thing is so preposterous (and yes, I know that it’s supposed to be, at least on some level) that it just becomes a non-stop orgy of head-scratching weirdness, occasionally punctuated by a halfway-decent shootout. If that’s your cup of tea (or shot of whiskey), have at it. Me, I prefer something that doesn’t seem to be trying so hard to kick its own ass.