No doubt about it, Kingsman (2014) was a crackers movie. Spectacularly entertaining and equally bonkers. Yet it did, at least take a steady incline up to the heady heights of its peak madness, offering a fair share of initial grounding before letting loose with the infamous church massacre and exploding heads galore. With the groundwork already laid this time around, there’s no such restraint with The Golden Circle. It leans into the lunacy, and it leans hard.
Returning writer/director Matthew Vaughn might have been forgiven for simply maintaining the status quo and shovelling out more of the same. But he just ain’t that sort of filmmaker. There’s much to love about the first film in the blossoming franchise; the general Britishness of it all, the over the top shenanigans, the extreme violence, the charismatic performances (most significantly, from Taron Egerton as Eggsy). All of these aspects return with a literal bang, but this time, Vaughn’s pulled the rug from under the character’s feet. Time spent with the Kingsman as we’ve come to know them is fleeting, with the new villain in town swiftly wiping the secret spy organisation from existence, leaving just two survivors; the hero of the piece, Eggsy, and Mark Stong’s tech guru Merlin (who has a considerably beefed up role here).
This sweeping slate cleaner of a move helps to alleviate any potential sequelitis, shifting the characters into new territory whilst simultaneously setting up the antagonist as a genuine game changer. The villain here being Julianne Moore’s sickly sweet, deeply disturbed Poppy, the head of a powerful drug syndicate known as The Golden Circle. Moore seems to be enjoying herself as much as her supervillain predecessor Samuel L. Jackson did before her in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Maybe even more so. Her delightfully deranged megalomaniac of a baddy is a real standout, providing a plethora of darkly comic moments. She even comes complete with her own evil lair (of course), an impressively realised jungle-based version of 1950s America, which marks itself as one of the most impressive of the film’s sets and is home to the best of a multitude of impressive action setpieces. Oh, and she’s holding Elton John captive. Just because. And yes, he’s fantastic.
To dig to the core of Poppy and The Golden Circle’s plot, Eggsy and Merlin turn to the Kingsman’s Doomsday protocol; a hint that will lead them to their American cousins, the whiskey-swilling Statesman. Cue a catwalk of new entries into the spy game. Halle Berry as Ginger, Channing Tatum as Tequila, Jeff Bridges as Champ, Pedro Pascal as Whiskey. As if they weren’t enough, Colin Firth’s Harry makes his comeback (a “surprise” ruined by almost every single one of the film’s trailers, which I won’t spoil any further here). It’s a stacked cast even before factoring in the odd cameo here and there, the reappearance of the now technologically advanced failed Kingsman Charlie (Edward Holcroft), Eggsy’s love interest Tilde (Hanna Alströmand), and an oddly misplaced scene with his friends that could happily have been cut altogether. There’s a lot going on. In spite of this, the longer runtime that the film inherits as a result, and a couple of logical missteps, Vaughn manages to keep things zippy whilst striking a nice balance between characters both old and new.
Of the new bunch, it’s Whiskey (Pascal) in particular who’s given the meatiest of the roles, bringing his own unique flavour to the overtly-stylised action and adding effectively to Kingsman’s heightened version of reality. He encapsulates the Statesman’s southern charm perfectly. The Statesman are charmers, the Kingsman are charmers, everyone’s a charmer! The biggest charmer of them all being Taron Egerton. Far less smooth and much quicker-witted than Bond could ever be, he’s the working-class spy you can root for. It’s clear just how much fun he’s having. ALL of the fun. The same goes for Vaughn. And ultimately, isn’t it just nice to have a shed load of fun at the cinema once in a while?
Rating (out of 5):