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Categories: Movie Reviews

Matthew Wilson finds a lot to like in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but is it enough to shuck Hollywood’s sequel sophomore slump syndrome?

I saw the first Kingsman at a free screening and enjoyed it so much that I paid to see it again, hoping to see more of this brand of insanity. Well two years on and we have more in the shape of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a film with high expectations… that just doesn’t live up to its predecessor.

Set a year after the first film, we open with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) being attacked by Kingsman reject Charlie (Edward Holcraft). Eggsy escapes but Charlie’s cybernetic arm is able to hack into the Kingsman servers, allowing drug baroness Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) to obliterate the Agency, leaving Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) as the only survivors. With no other plan of action, Eggsy and Merlin initiate the Doomsday Protocol which leads them to The Stateman, the American branch of their agency. After confirming their allegiance, the Statesman agree to help not only with stopping Poppy but also with helping restore the memory of an, alive, Harry Hart living under their care.

I won’t go into too much detail of Poppy’s plan, but it involves the drug trade and it’s not up to par as before. It feels like they started working with the drugs angle but couldn’t think of anything interesting, or original, to say about it and ends up being too heavy-handed. On the whole, the story’s serviceable but lacks the first film’s charm and, knowing, wink to the audience.

One of the film’s biggest issues is how it handles its new characters. Pedro Pascal comes out on top as Agent Whisky, a charming badass with a lethal electric lasso. He was a lot of fun and offered a more cowboy style to the spy movie formula. However, when they try to add depth to him it ends up feeling rushed. The other Statesman, though, come up entirely short. Tatum’s Tequila drops out of the film after two scenes, Bridges’ Champagne just delivered exposition (and drank whisky) and Berry’s Ginger could’ve stood in as a counterpart to Merlin but they don’t use her enough and the conclusion of her arc felt unearned.

At near-two-and-a-half hours, not having the time to build up the new characters just feels like bad writing. As much fun as they are, we’ve already seen the main cast before, and enjoyed them, so the spotlight was open for someone else to come in. But nobody took it. Well, nobody apart from Elton John. Who damn near stole the film as a fictionalised version of himself. Moore felt like she could’ve used the extra time to highlight Poppy as the film’s insane villain and, to her credit, Moore looks to be having a ton of fun with the role. But she’s too similar to Valentine and, as previously mentioned, her plan was too heavy-handed to work in this universe.

Merlin is still the Kingsman’s man behind-the-curtain but his time in the spotlight with Eggsy was fun, and revealed some funny character traits (including a surprising love of John Denver), and his attempts to help Harry showcased something genuine. But once Harry was back in the picture, Merlin felt sidelined.

Speaking of which, Harry Hart returns having survived getting shot in the head. Normally, I’d call foul but they actually make use of him taking a bullet. His amnesia keeps him out of things for a while but, even once that’s cured, he still not all there. It keeps you wondering if the character really is back or if he’s too far gone and Firth plays it as such, effortlessly.

Finally we have Eggsy. Still as likeable, and charming, but still, also, roughish as ever. On the surface, he’s loud, brash and foul-mouthed but underneath that he’s smart, friendly and loyal. His relationship with Princess Tilde subverts two spy tropes: a new girl in every film and having to hide his secret life. But, also, it humanised Eggsy and showed that, even with all the saving the world business, he still stuck by those who were important to him. Seeing Eggsy’s journey in the first film was fun but now seeing him all suited and booted made it all worthwhile.

I don’t think Vaughn ever expected a sequel because, while it is bigger, it lacks much of what made the original work. It’s not as charming, funny or insane. Leaving things feeling like a step-backwards. He lets scenes go on too long, a Glastonbury aside goes on longer than is comfortable and he fails to make many of the film’s biggest moments feel earned. The two biggest offenders being a third act reveal out of left-field, with character motivations never seen before, and a death scene which the film goes out of its way to have not happen. Then it happens anyway.

Still, there are points Vaughn gets right. Namely, the entertainment factor. The film is still a lot of fun and you can see the same DNA from the first film.

We open with a car chase and are thrust right back into it. Pascal gets a couple standout moments for himself, the best being his own barroom brawl; where he puts his lasso to good use. The final act has the film come the closest to the original, with Eggsy and Harry teaming up played to Elton John’s Saturday Night (which breaks off into two separate battles of Eggsy vs. Charlie and Harry vs. Robo-Dog before coming back for a final boss fight with a country-and-western cover of Word Up). As mentioned earlier, it’s not as insane as before but there’s no denying Vaughn knows how to have fun.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle’s biggest issue is that the whole film suffers from a ‘But’. The story’s decent but too heavy-handed, the returning characters are great but the new arrivals are lacking and the action is fun but the sly wit is gone. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the film it’s still a drop-off from the first.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is out now in cinemas.

Matthew Wilson

Operating out of Livingston, Scotland, Matthew Wilson has been self-publishing reviews since 2012 - amassing over 1000 and climbing on his personal account at MovieFanCentral- and has produced a number of short films for his Graded Unit at Edinburgh College. Matthew hopes to start writing and directing his own productions one day, having written several unpublished scripts for film and television.

Posted on Sep 28, 2017

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