1. I understand that we live in a niche world in which certain tiny constituencies can expand their influence and dedication through lower bars of communication, in which fanatics can provide the illusion of greater sway than they have in reality. But you’re not going to convince me that there were enough people clamoring for a Kingsman sequel to require the franchise to produce the bloated, windy, oddly reverential mess that is Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The first film was pleasant enough, a pseudo-Bond semi-parody that got a little lost in its own mythology and wandered perilously into Brit dude-bro territory on occasion but featured a fun lead performance by Colin Firth, an actor it was surprisingly enjoyable to watch wipe out a church full of bad guys to the tune of “Freebird.” It passed by breezily enough and then vanished from memory. But witnessing its sequel, one would think that it was the foundational document of a new religion itself, to be treated with the profundity and self-seriousness of a Dead Sea Scroll. You made a silly little spy thriller. You want us to take this seriously now?
2. We pick up relatively soon after we left off, with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) now a full-fledged Kingsman, dating a Swedish princess (Hanna Alstrom) and looking dapper in his tailored suits. But then, suddenly, his entire Kingsman crew, save for his old buddy Merlin (Mark Strong), is wiped out by missiles fired by a sociopathic drug kingpin (played by Julianne Moore, obviously) who, curiously, wants drugs to be legalized so she can be recognized as the powerful businesswoman she is. Eggsy and Merlin discover a Kingsman doomsday protocol that leads them to Statesman, the Kingsman’s American equivalent, which is run by Jeff Bridges, employs Channing Tatum and Halle Berry and attempts to overcome a dangerous American President (Bruce Greenwood). Oh, also, Firth’s Galahad is back, even though he was shot in the head in the last film. Oh, and there’s another Statesman agent (Pedro Pascal) with a lasso who keeps hanging around, looking shifty. Oh, and Elton John is here too, playing a much more vulgar, acrobatic version of himself.
3. Yeah, there’s a lot going on here; the film is so ridiculously overplotted that it runs nearly two-and-a-half hours, an absurd running time for a goofy movie in which Julianne Moore runs a guy through a meat grinder and then makes a hamburger out of him. Save for a few moments here or there, the cheekiness of the original is replaced with endless plot machinery, with our characters crisscrossing the globe and facing endless unnecessary complications. Director Matthew Vaughn appears to have gotten a bit high off his own supply; he acts as if we ever cared about these characters or what motivated them. He supplies them all with dime-store backstories and then invests way too much time in them—Galahad wanted to study butterflies, Eggsy is afraid to commit to his girlfriend, Merlin loves John Denver songs, continuing Denver’s rather insane resurgence in American movies this year. (By my count, “Take Me Home Country Road” has appeared in this, Logan Lucky, Free Fire, Okja and Alien: Covenant, and I’m not the first to notice.) If you liked the big fight sequences in the first Kingsman movie, you’ll find them here, too. You just have to sit through so much to get to them.
4. A couple of these work, including a big set piece set to Elton John’s “Saturday Night,” which has the added benefit of having John himself show up and start kicking some ass. (John’s extended cameo is a highlight of the film and hints at a leaner, more self-aware alternate-universe version of this movie that’s a lot better than this one.) But the movie is just so overstuffed that it’s hard for anything to take much hold. The actors mostly just sort of wave to the camera while strolling by. Moore seems to relish playing such a bad guy, but it’s all surface: She’s play-acting like everybody else is. Bridges and Tatum are barely in the movie at all, and, in fact, Tatum’s character leaves the narrative so quickly, and is replaced in the plot so handily by Pascal’s lasso character, that you wonder if Tatum only committed to a certain amount of time to do the film so they jammed in another character to fill out the story so they didn’t have to lose Tatum from the poster. It’s also difficult to remember the last time Tatum, an actor with ambition to burn, looked so listless and bored. This is a star-studded cast, but they’re only here in name only.
5. For all its supposed irreverence, the movie feels product-tested to the moon; there isn’t a single shot that isn’t trying to sell you something. The movie also has some of the creeping bro grossness of some of Vaughn’s other films, particularly a disturbing subplot where Eggsy has to insert a tracking device in a woman’s vagina that the movie treats with sniggering and chortles. But this thing gasps and whimpers all the way through. Vaughn’s attempt to craft a sequel to his hit doesn’t expand its canvas so much as it does just inject the initial story with a bunch of hot gas, puffing it out but not making it any less empty. I am not sure my sole takeaway from Kingsman: The Golden Circle is supposed to be, “Hey, Elton John should kick people in the face more often,” but after nearly 150 minutes, I’ll confess, it’s about all I remember.
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer: Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal
Release Date: September 22, 2017