Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result of “getting the band back together” when the band broke up six months ago and everyone still hates each other so they just re-mix a few songs and release a “Greatest Hits” album. Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service was a sleeper hit when it was released in February of 2015. The film struck the perfect tone, balancing irreverence and absurdity with the clichés of the action spy genre, all the while telling a legitimately interesting story. As a critical darling, once the film broke even financially it was all but assured that a sequel would be made. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result – a film as derivative and unimaginative as its predecessor was refreshing.
It’s hard to even pick a specific place to start with The Golden Circle, but the governing dynamic of the film is actually pretty simple to describe: it apes everything from the original, but it a lazier and stupider way. Everything is a rehash – less clever, more blunt.
A more eccentric billionaire hatches a more absurd plot. Instead of losing a single mentor, Eggsy loses almost all of them. Action sequences are dialed up to 11 and lean heavily on multiple cuts and needless CGI (which is pretty terrible). Instead of the badguys having swords for legs, they either have a metallic computerized arm or are literally robotic dogs. The Mark Hamill cameo is “upgraded” into Elton John playing himself in half a dozen scenes. Even the death of Harry is subverted, first by bringing him back needlessly, and then by killing off another key character in a thoroughly uninteresting way. It’s a trainwreck of a sequel, falling into every single pitfall that makes the continuation of a story into a chore.
Julianne Moore plays the villain, a poppy-peddling wierdo obsessed with 50’s nostalgia restaurants for some reason. She get some idiot in a meat grinder and makes his friend eat him just so that you know she’s so crazy! At least she didn’t try to adopt some kind of speech impediment that was more zany than Samuel L. Jackson’s.
They explode The Kingsman HQ and kill a bunch of Eggsy’s buddies immediately. This is the excuse for getting Eggsy and Merlin to America for the new adventure, but it feels a little drastic. Of course, once they’re there, they find Harry. He’s retconned back into the story with some science mumbo-jumbo because . . . reasons. I guess it was too much to just let Harry exist as a strong and complete character in a single movie. You gotta bring him back for the next one! I guess Alien: Resurrection was pretty good, though.
And let’s get into the action sequences. It starts at the very beginning with a nonsensical car chase full of CGI, incomprehensible events, and zero stakes. We spend three minutes on the chase, only to have everything “solved” with the push of a single button. Later, it gets worse. With Harry back, why not replay the “Manners Maketh Man” scene over again? It’s not important that Vaughn chooses to subvert the sequence to show that Harry isn’t himself – we already know that. It’s more about the cringey way that everything unfolds – like a paint by numbers that you’ve done before.
In addition – Jesus is the CGI bad. In the aforementioned scene, the characters throw some chairs that look worse than Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin combined. Chairs. War for the Planet of the Apes flawlessly renders living, breathing apes, and The Golden Circle can’t get the geometry of a chair right. Plus, the action tends towards that hyper-cutty, schizophrenic style of editing that robs the action of any weight. The final fight is all of these things at once – robot dogs getting battered by Elton John wielding a bowling ball as we cut to a different fight with Eggsy. It’s a mess, a haphazard movie where they throw everything at the wall just to see what sticks.
Most offensively, The Golden Circle lacks any kind of spine. The original exploded President Obama’s head. On screen. That takes some balls, and I loved Matthew Vaughn for it. In this one, some fake president is a cartoon character missing only a long mustache to twirl, and nothing much happens to him at all. Where’s Trump (or Clinton)? I understand that the US election took place with awkward timing for this film, but that’s why we have reshoots. If Disney can shoe-horn Darth Vader into Rogue One (resulting in everyone’s favorite scene in the history of movies), then The Kingsman can point its barbs at whatever president won in November – ten months before the film was to be released. Time wasn’t the issue, guts was. Just throw a fake president in there and make him a cartoon. Fuck it, they’ll buy a ticket.
There’s so much more that is wrong. Halle Berry is a nothing character, Jeff Bridges feels wasted, and they threw Channing Tatum into a coma in five minutes. But, these are all secondary to the real problem: Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the epitome of the sequel that got comfortable. Instead of expanding upon the universe in an interesting way, it just parroted the same ideas a second time with amped up craziness because they thought that’s what we liked about the first one.
What we actually loved about the original is that it had a specific voice, a unique style that it decided to champion without any regard for how it would be received. The Kingsman: The Secret Service exploded a sitting president’s head and then made a buttsex joke in its climactic sequence, all with an attitude of: “You don’t like it? Then fuck off.” The original was confident that it would find an audience if it stuck to its guns. This woe-begotten sequel decided it was more important to placate an audience than to earn one.