The opening 15 minutes and the final 30 of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” encapsulate everything I loved about “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Our protagonist, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), is involved in an extended car chase through the streets of London to open the film. It’s exciting, bombastic and funny as Eggsy fights a man with a mechanical arm in a moving car while also dealing with three more vehicles close behind.
The finale features Eggsy and Harry Hart (Colin Firth) battling the villain, Poppy (Julianne Moore), her thugs and robot dogs in a ’50s-themed wonderland in the middle of the jungle. No joke. It’s subversive, meta and cartoony in a Wile E. Coyote/ Road Runner kind of way.
Sadly, everything in between weighs the film down with set ups that don’t pay off, a poorly constructed villain and unnecessary subplots.
After the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to head to America to seek out a fellow secret organization known as The Statesman to help them find who killed their fellow agents.
Remember how well The Continental Hotel was presented in the first “John Wick” movie and then expanded upon in the sequel? There’s virtually none of that here. The Statesman is a great idea and necessary when widening the sand box created in the first Kingsman.
But what starts out as a funny fish-out-of-water culture clash between the proper tailors of Kingsman and booze-loving hounds of Statesman quickly turns into nothing more than a plot device for the Kingsman to use all of the gadgets and toys provided by their American counterparts.
The Statesman include Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). With the exception of Whiskey, none of these actors are given much to do in this film because they’re barely in it. It’s all a wink to the camera to say, “Look forward to seeing more of these people in the third movie.” The final shot of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” lays this all out.
The mastermind of the Kingsman’s demise is Poppy. On the surface she’s a wholesome, American pie baking homemaker. But really she’s a psychotic drug dealer who’s managed to lace every drug she manufactures with a virus that only she has the cure for.
She eventually strikes a deal with the President to legalize all drugs to allow regulation while also killing anyone already infected. It’s an interesting commentary on the war on drugs. The first film featured similar subversiveness with its take on the one percent, global warming and over-population.
But unlike the first film where Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Valentine, was able to interact with the heroes creating playful chemistry, Moore’s Poppy is secluded in the jungle for the entirety of the film. As always, Moore gives a terrific performance, but her character only pops up when the story requires it.
At 140 minutes, you really feel the length of the “Golden Circle.” Remember the end of “Secret Service” when Eggsy meets a Princess and they… “celebrate” the saving of the world? They’re in a relationship now. Why? I have no idea. “Golden Circle” spends way too much time on this subplot. The scenes between Eggsy and Harry work because that relationship was built in the first movie. One scene in particular where Eggsy attempts to rehabilitate a broken Harry is really well done. But Eggsy has to juggle Harry and his girlfriend.
Eggsy and Princess Tilde are a couple now for reasons I can’t explain. Is it supposed to be about Eggsy settling down? Why? He just became a Kingsman. Is it a reaction to some who criticized the first film who found a woman rewarding a man for saving her and the world by having sex with him offensive? Possibly. Either way, this relationship slows the film down considerably until we eventually get what I like to call, “The tacked on wedding” at the end.
Note to filmmakers: If a movie has a planned wedding in the plot, I’m fine with it. But if you throw in a wedding scene at the end to wrap it up nice and neat, I’m going to react negatively.
Sequels are always going to be bigger than their predecessor. This has always been the formula. But where “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” falters is that it juggles too many ideas on a surface level when really it should have focused on Eggsy and Harry’s relationship.
But even that could have been eradicated because why is Harry even in this movie? Their explanation for him surviving a bullet through the eye kind of works, but by bringing him back, they lessen the impact of the shocking scene in the first film where we think he’s dead.
This should have been a movie about Eggsy continuing to learn how to be a man while also reluctantly becoming the leader of the Kingsman and all of the expectation and pressure that requires.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” suffers from the “expanded universe” disease by presenting ideas and set ups we won’t appreciate until further movies are made. Shave 20 minutes off of the runtime, cut out the Princess stuff and expand on the Statesman and you have yourself another fun spy movie that exists somewhere between James Bond and Austin Powers. That’s the movie that should have been made.