Delivering a sequel that lives up to the reputation of its predecessor is a rare feat in Hollywood, but Kingsman: The Golden Circle appeared to have all of the ingredients to do just that. Not only was director Matthew Vaughn confirmed to return but the original writing team of Vaughn and Jane Goldman were also back on board, as were the core Kingsman cast, with exciting newcomers such as Channing Tatum joining the fun. Furthermore, it was announced that Colin Firth would be reprising his role as super-spy Harry Hart. Manners maketh man, indeed.
Alas, reaction to this much-anticipated sequel has been notably less enthusiastic than that enjoyed by the original movie. While the first Kingsman was a quirky, modern slice of comedy-tinged British espionage that triumphed at the box office thanks to positive word of mouth, The Golden Circle has tellingly split fans and critics down the middle.
It's worth stressing that in no way is Kingsman 2 a bad film. The action is fast-paced and intense, Taron Egerton is fantastic as protagonist Eggsy and Elton John's extended cameo is glorious but something is undoubtedly missing from the mixture. A certain spirit that made the original movie such an unexpected hit is no longer present, and, under further analysis, there are several other areas in which The Golden Circle falls victim to the dreaded "difficult second album" syndrome.
All too often, sequels fall into the trap of believing everything from the first movie needs to be bigger, louder and more epic but this line of thinking rarely results in a superior film. Such is the case with Kingsman: The Golden Circle and nowhere is this more apparent than in the movie's many fight scenes. In an attempt to outdo the memorable and slick scraps of the original, Vaughn and co. have resorted to CGI magic to bring moments of craziness such as Eggsy's car door skid and Whiskey's "skipping rope" to life. Although these scenes are certainly not lacking in ambition, the punch and authenticity that made the church and pub fights from the original instant classics is sadly missing.
This mentality is also on display in Kingsman 2's use of gadgetry. The franchise's tech has always been firmly rooted in the more madcap realms of spy fiction - gunbrellas and exploding microchips, for instance - but The Golden Circle takes this concept to a whole new level. Poppy Adams' robot henchmen raise some smiles throughout but are poor substitutes for human baddies in the final battle and the Statesmen's headshot-plot-device-gel is simply too convenient. Such futuristic technology but a decent mine sweeper was clearly too much to ask for...
Kingsman's status as a spoof of the spy genre does give it more of a license to thrill when it comes to ridiculous gadgets but even the mighty James Bond had to reign things in after Die Another Day's infamous "invisible car" debacle and Kingsman 3 would benefit from doing the same.
To be clear, Julianne Moore is wonderful as arch villain Poppy Adams, striking just the right balance between eccentricity and menace. However, her character is woefully short-changed and underused, especially when compared to Samuel L. Jackson's Richmond Valentine from the first Kingsman. While Valentine felt like a well fleshed-out main character, Poppy remains somewhat one-dimensional, her function purely to give Egerton and Firth someone to fight against.
This problem is typified by the character's lackluster death scene. After being infected with her own deadly virus, Poppy is given minutes to live unless she yields the vital password Eggsy and Harry need to save the world. She does so and promptly collapses to the floor without so much as a whimper, with Colin Firth muttering some half-hearted explanation as to why she died so prematurely.
That would be an anti-climactic demise for any villain but the fact Moore did so much good work beforehand, only to be disposed of literally the second she stopped being useful to the plot is a development that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
- Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) release date: Sep 22, 2017