The problem with doing a self-contained, fully realized story on the first outing of a franchise is that there isn’t really anywhere to go afterward. Such is the case with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which, try as it might, rarely feels like anything more than an excuse to get a bunch of the cast and crew back together in hopes of printing money. It’s fun, without a doubt, but does it feel anywhere close to necessary? It does not.
The plot sees the Kingsman, a British spy organization, essentially ended. The headquarters and hideouts are blown up, and the only two people left alive are our protagonist, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), and Merlin (Mark Strong). They wind up heading to America to join forces with the previously unheard of “Statesman” in order to take down the person who blew up their organization: a drug lord hiding out in Cambodia, Poppy (Julianne Moore). The rest is superfluous. There are a couple of subplots and reveals, and it’s never boring, but you can usually tell where it’s going to go before it gets there.
That is, of course, assuming you’ve seen the first Kingsman movie—which you absolutely should. It was one of the best action movies of its year, and is well worth a watch. This one … feels pretty much like its predecessor. It’s got great stylized action, a decent spy plot that is half serious and half spoof, and a bunch of interesting if shallow characters. But it never does top the church scene, it feels a little bit repetitive, and at 141 minutes it does go on a little too long for what it’s trying to do.
Worse yet is a subplot revealed in the marketing that kind of lessens the emotional heft that came from the first film. That, honestly, is one of the biggest drains on running time within Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and both narratively and thematically isn’t necessary. If there’s one big misstep that the movie makes, it’s this one. I know it helps sell the movie, but it hurts the movie. It feels like a decision where money was put before artistry.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun sequel to a great movie, but that’s about as much praise as can be thrown its way.
The new characters, though, add a fun dynamic—particularly when it comes to Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal). The former gets a really fun couple of scenes right when the remaining Kingsman first get to America, while the latter remains more of a presence throughout their stay. There’s a celebrity cameo (that I won’t spoil) who shows up far more times than is expected—and suffers from the law of diminishing returns. And then there’s Julianne Moore as the evil drug lord.
Moore manages to create a memorable villain out of what could have been a throwaway role. Her Cambodian hideaway is furnished with ’80s-lensed ’50s nostalgia, which is just fantastic, but her demeanor, word choice, and pretty much everything about her is so great. She’s more menacing as a seemingly sweet, unassuming woman than Samuel L. Jackson‘s character was in the first film. Watching her work might be the most entertaining Kingsman: The Golden Circle gets.
That’s saying something, as the film is filled with action scenes, many of which are very enjoyable. Is it, at times, too over-the-top and overly stylized? Maybe, but that’s part of what makes this franchise what it is. You tone that down and you lose some of the ridiculousness and fun, and it becomes more like a generic spy movie than a spoof. And we don’t need more of those, do we? We just got one last week with American Assassin, which, come to think of it, wasn’t really about an American assassin, now was it?
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun sequel to a great movie, but that’s about as much praise as can be thrown its way. It’s fun. It’s completely unnecessary, sometimes feels like it’s just acting as a repeat of its predecessor, It’s got good enough action, funny enough jokes, and interesting enough characters to hold our interest, but it’s not as good. The only standout aspect is Julianne Moore, whose villain turn is so good that it’s almost hard to hate her. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun time at the cinema, but temper your expectations.
Conclusion: Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun movie, but it’s not as great as the first film.
Recommendation: If you liked Kingsman, this is more of the same, so you’ll probably like it, too.