The first “Kingsman” movie, “The Secret Service,” was like a violent “Pygmalion,” taking a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and transforming him into a Kingsman Tailor, a super spy with manners that would make Henry Higgins proud and gadgets that James Bond would envy.
The Kingsman Tailors are the modern day knights; their finely tailored suits their armour. In the first movie rebellious teenager turned super spy Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) made it through “the most dangerous job interview in the world” to earn a place in the exclusive group. This weekend he returns to the glamorous and treacherous 007ish world of intrigue in a sequel, “The Golden Circle.”
The job of keeping the world safe is the international intelligence agency Kingman’s top priority. That, and looking sharp while doing it. On the eve of Eggsy’s big date with girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström) he is attacked by Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a rejected Kingsman applicant turned bad. One of the only survivors of the exploding head caper of the last film, Hesketh only has one arm. The other is a mechanical unit called Armageddon—Get it?—equipped with all manner of gadgets, including a hacking device that taps into Eggsy’s Kingsman database.
Turns out, Charlie is working with the Golden Circle, the world’s biggest drug cartel. CEO—and possible cannibal—Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) is not content to have a global monopoly on the drug trade. She wants recognition for her achievements. To this end she plans to hold the world hostage by shipping millions of pounds of drugs poisoned with a chemical that will cause the Blue Rash. First symptom? Blue spider veins. Next? Mania, then paralysis followed by exploding organs. She wants the war on drugs to end immediately or she will let all the folks who have used her tainted drugs die horrible deaths. Her slogan? “Save Lives! Legalize!”
Her first step is to use the information from Charlie’s arm to locate all ten Kingsman offices worldwide and blow them all to kingdom come. Only Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) survive the coordinated blasts. Stiff upper lipped, they continue on and, following Kingsman protocol, will later shed a single tear in private for their fallen comrades. With their ranks decimated the duo turns to their American counterparts. Camouflaged as a whiskey manufacturer in Kentucky the Statesman are run by a colourful character known as Agent Champagne (Jeff Bridges).
Former rodeo clown Agents Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) are six-shooter toting modern cowboys, stereotypical slices of Americana for a new generation while Agent Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) provides high tech guidance. Along with the new partners Merlin and Eggsy also discover their old friend Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a legendary Kingsman left for dead on an old mission. Unbeknownst to them he was rescued by the Statesman but now suffers from retrograde amnesia. Can Harry’s old friends help reboot his Kingsman memories? Will the surviving Kingsman and Statesmen be able to put aside their cultural differences in time to bring law and order back to the world?
There is a fun ninety-minute movie contained within “The Golden Circle,” but unfortunately it is buffered with an additional fifty minutes of talking. Sure, there are gadgets galore, wild chases and plenty of fight scenes but it suffers from a Pierce Brosnan era James Bond love of gadgetry and silly action set pieces. If the clichés don’t get you—“The Kingsmen need you,” Eggsy emotes, hoping to jog Harry’s memories. “The world needs you. I need you to.”—the sluggish pacing will. Despite the frenetic piece of the action sequences most other scenes drag, elongated with needless nattering. Even a riff on the first film’s most famous scene, the pub fight, feels overdone and uninspired.
The joie de vivre that made the first film so startling and fun is missing. Even the soundtrack has a been there, heard it before flavour. A case in point? The use of John Denver’s “Country Road” in a major scene despite the song already being used this year in “Free Fire,” “Alien: Covenant,” “Okja” and “Logan Lucky.”
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is star studded but is so enamoured of its own style it doesn’t give anyone a chance to be interesting. Any movie whose most memorable performance comes from Elton John—who is clearly a better piano player than actor—is in trouble. The clothes are nice but style isn’t enough to dress up this poor excuse for a caper film.