Kingsman: The Golden Circle doubles down on slick action and spy genre riffs, but adds enough fresh and fun elements to provide an exciting sequel.
After losing Harry Hart (Colin Firth) and saving the world, Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) has settled into life as a full blown Kingsman agent, taking up the title of Agent Galahad from his fallen mentor. Now, Eggsy is living in Harry's old home with his girlfriend, the Swedish Princesse Tilde (Hanna Alström), and going about his business of working for a secret spy organization. However, Eggsy's old nemesis Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft) surfaces and complicates the new normal. When Roxy, aka Agent Lancelot (Sophie Cookson), discovers that Charlie is working with the drug cartel known as the Golden Circle, the criminal organization's leader, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), delivers a devastating blow to the Kingsman.
As a result, Eggsy and the remaining Kingsman agents are forced to track down their American counterparts, the Statesman. In Kentucky, they meet the Statesman's leader, Champ (Jeff Bridges), as well as agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and their tech support, Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). In the depths of the Statesman headquarters, Eggsy also comes across the still alive Harry Hart, but he isn't quite the same mentor who taught Eggsy about Oxfords and brogues. When Poppy's evil plan is revealed, the Kingsman and Statesman must work together to save the world. However, with so much working against him and his allies - a changed Harry Hart, a potential double agent within one of the spy organizations, and a particularly incompetent U.S. President - Eggsy has his work cut out for him.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the sequel to 2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service, reuniting the creative team behind the scenes of co-writers Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, with Vaughn additionally returning to the director's chair. Vaughn also reteams with cinematographer George Richmond and editor Eddie Hamilton (though The Secret Service was edited by Hamilton and Jon Harris). The first film was based on the graphic novel, The Secret Service, from writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Gibbons, a twist on spy genre action films like James Bond. Although The Golden Circle diverges from the original Kingsman comic book source material, it continues the adventures of Eggsy and the independent intelligence agency. Kingsman: The Golden Circle doubles down on slick action and spy genre riffs, but adds enough fresh and fun elements to provide an exciting sequel.
Like the unique fighting sequences in The Secret Service, The Golden Circle employs exceptionally dynamic action set pieces using a mixture of fast-paced close-ups - on everything from characters to weapons as they move around whatever setting in which the fight is placed - and slow-motion. This mix of shots works to break up the pacing of each action scene, which ups the energy and, ultimately, the enjoyment factor of these sequences. Plus, Vaughn again smartly chooses music for the bigger action sequences that work exceptionally well to set the tone and pace of these scenes. The combination of elements makes for truly breathtaking and exciting action set pieces that are incredibly fun to watch. There isn't one particular fight scene that will quite define The Golden Circle in the way that Harry's church massacre did The Secret Service (though Eggsy's cab fight scene comes close), but Vaughn, Richmond, and Hamilton bring the same energy and fun to the sequel's action sequences - making them a major strength of the film.
Another strength of The Golden Circle lies in the film's villain: the charming and sweet, but psychopathic Poppy Adams. Like Valentine in The Secret Service, Poppy's character - and her entire world - is created out of contradictions. Moore plays Poppy with all the disarmingly upbeat confidence needed by a woman in power, but the character's plan to reach her ultimate goal and her business practices are nothing short of brutal. The dichotomy in Poppy's character is what makes her so fun to watch - and, to be sure, Moore's villain is incredibly fun to watch. Even her hideout is full of contradictions as it's stylized with plenty of '50s nostalgia, but uses a great deal of advanced technology, which is no better epitomized than in her pair of robotic guard dogs: Bennie and Jet. Darren Gilford's production design of Poppy Land is lush and perfectly reflects her character, elevating all the scenes of Poppy set within her world. The movie's third act, as written by Vaughn and Goldman, cheats Poppy, but for the most part the villain is a high point of The Golden Circle.
While Poppy is a well developed and fully fleshed out villain, the Statesman agents don't quite get the same treatment. To be sure, Tatum, Pascal, and Bridges play the parts of charming southern gentlemen exceptionally well, and work excellently as American foils to the likes of Egerton, Strong, and Firth. The three Statesman agents and their version of Merlin, Ginger Ale, are wonderful additions to Kingsman universe, but they're somewhat shortchanged seemingly to set up for the arguably superfluous third act plot twist (though this twist does make way for a visually stunning, if emotionally empty, fight scene) or as a means of holding something back until a third Kingsman movie. The Golden Circle doesn't commit the major sin of shared movie universe building - introducing characters solely for use later on in the franchise - since all of the Statesman are integral to the plot of the film (and almost entirely enjoyable while on screen), but there is a sense that Vaughn and Goldman may have held back a little, at least partially to set the stage for a third installment.
For the most part, The Golden Circle is a solid second installment in the Kingsman franchise. It takes certain big risks, but makes sure to double down on the elements that worked particularly well in The Secret Service, such as including clever nods to classic spy movies - especially Bond - and frenetic action set pieces. Of course, not every risk in The Golden Circle pays off; there are some plot points and expository bits of dialogue that seemingly aim to be new spins on the tropes of the spy genre, but are too trite to fully achieve that goal. And, while one of The Secret Service's biggest strengths was its freshness amid the genres of spy and action films, The Golden Circle - by definition of being a sequel - can't shine quite as bright in that respect. But, The Golden Circle capitalizes on its sequel status by putting a new spin on certain elements from The Secret Service, which works to make the world of Kingsman cohesive, even if it's not quite as original and fresh as the first film.
All in all, The Golden Circle is an excellent followup to The Secret Service and perfect for fans of the first Kingsman movie. It continues to develop the compelling characters of Eggsy and Harry as established in The Secret Service (with a particularly memorable turn for Strong as Merlin), while building out the world of the Kingsman to include the Statesman. It's clear from The Golden Circle that Vaughn and Goldman aren't done with this universe of Kingsman and Statesman, which will no doubt please fans that enjoy their different brand of spy film, but the film makes sure to tell a, for the most part, standalone story - one that should be commended for managing to work in a stellar role for Sir Elton John (as himself). The Golden Circle proves that there is fun and enjoyment to be had in the further adventures of Eggsy and his new generation of spy film - and that the Kingsman franchise has serious potential staying power.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 141 minutes and is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material.
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