Though Matthew Vaughn has many talents, you suspect being a great poker player isn’t one of them. In an era when the makers of the biggest blockbusters are going to extreme lengths to keep their major plot points under wraps, the Kingsman director gleefully splays his cards on the table with a giant gurning grin at the earliest opportunity.
The return of Colin Firth’s suave super spy Harry in Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a prime example. Despite being relieved of his grey matter by Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping villain in the first movie, Vaughn cheerfully revealed that the classy sleuth would live to don a pair of shiny oxford brogues once again as soon as this inevitable follow-up was confirmed.
And while it’s an inarguable thrill to see Firth back in umbrella-twirling action, his entirely expected revival is indicative of this so-so sequel’s biggest flaw. The Golden Circle once again brims with Bond-turned-up-to-11 swagger and gloriously OTT thrills, but it lacks the wild creative spark that made the original such a delirious delight.
We’re a year on from the first movie and hoodie-turned-hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has officially joined the sartorially immaculate ranks of the Kingsmen and happily settled down with his Swedish princess girlfriend. That is, until a catastrophic attack wipes out almost all of the Kingsman agents in one fell-swoop, leaving Eggsy and Mark Strong’s tech genius as the only survivors. In desperate need of back-up, the duo head across the pond to team up with their brash American cousins The Statesman in order to take down Julianne Moore’s off-kilter drug baron Poppy Adams before she unleashes her plan to monopolise the world’s drug trade.
From the opening brutally bonkers scrap inside a black cab, Vaughn’s intention is clear as he doubles down on all the mayhem that made this movie’s precursor so much fun. The locations are more extravagant; the 007-inspired gadgets are even more outlandish, with a laser lasso, killer robot dogs with drill-bit teeth and an indestructible henchman with a claw crane arm just some of the daft gadgets dreamed up for this follow-up. Even the action has been amplified from the Secret Service (a movie which culminates in a multicoloured firework display of exploding heads), the camera seemingly defying gravity as it spins and swivels fluidly through dizzying set-piece after dizzying set-piece.
And then there’s the introduction of the American contingent, a brash and flashy outfit hidden away in a Kentucky bourbon distillery where all the agents have booze-related codenames. Whiskey, played with grit and plenty of Southern charm by Pedro Pascal; Halle Berry’s Ginger Ale, essentially the yank equivalent to Mark Strong’s guy in the chair; Champagne (Jeff Bridges), the team’s benevolent boss; and the rough-around-the-edges Tequila, played by Channing Tatum with tobacco-chewing enthusiasm, right up until he’s inexplicably sidelined for almost the entire movie. After initially playing up the differing styles between the refined Kingsman and the honky-tonk Statesman, it’s slightly disappointing that these culture clash elements not used more effectively, with the two-sides learning to get along surprisingly quickly, a few mild jibes aside.
As action packed as it may be, the movie is missing the heartfelt emotional core of its predecessor. The original movie saw Firth’s sharp-suited agent training the chavvy Eggsy in the art of sophisticated espionage. While The Golden Circle tries to reverse this arc with Eggsy hoping to coax an amnesiac Harry back into action, it doesn’t have the same powerful resonance as the original. All of which leaves Eggsy without much of a journey, except for his half-baked attempts to stay faithful to his girlfriend, which is only really tested during a gross Glastonbury-set sequence when he has to seduce a target. And even then he calls his girlfriend to ask permission first.
Moore’s cheerfully off-kilter villain is also underused, her perky violence feeling only mildly threatening as she spends the entire movie stuck in her 50s Americana-inspired South American lair (think Graceland mashed-up with the Aztec zone in The Crystal Maze) offing henchman just for the hell of it.
The movie also fails to justify it’s two-and-a-half hour runtime with a predictable plot that follows a near-identical structure to the original – not to mention countless Bond movies. It doesn’t help that all the surprises were let out of the bag before the film was released. As a result Harry’s return struggles to have the desired impact, being met with grateful relief rather than shock after almost an hour of needless teasing. Likewise, his journey back to his old self holds no suspense – we saw him fighting alongside Eggsy in the trailers and so never doubt that he’ll be alright again soon enough.
For all its exuberant, brazen thrills, The Golden Circle simply doesn’t hold attention or capture the imagination like it’s predecessor, coming across as an all-too familiar journey to a destination we’ve visited many time before. Maybe next time Vaughn will manage to keep his cards closer to his chest.
Runtime: 141 mins (approx.)
Director: Matthew Vaughn;
Screenwriters: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn;
Stars: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal