When Kingsman: The Secret Service debuted in 2015, it became a critical darling and surprise commercial hit due to strong word of mouth, and a truly original and exciting approach to the spy (and in many respects, the superhero / comic book) genre. Funny, irreverent and wholly memorable, it stands apart as one of the most entertaining films of the last few years. It’s unsurprising then that the surviving members of the cast – of which there were admittedly few – as well as director Matthew Vaughn (who was previously best known for another brilliant adaptation, Kick-Ass) have quickly reunited for a sequel, The Golden Circle, which hits cinemas today.
The film picks up a year after the original, with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) still dating the princess who rewarded him with anal at the end of the last film for whatever reason, and saving the world with the Kingsmen, as he continues to mourn the loss of his mentor Harry / Galahad (Colin Firth). Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon is in charge and Mark Strong continues to be a reliable ally as Eggsy does his part alongside Roxy (Sophie Cookson). So, what do you do after creating a world in a successful franchise debut? You tear it down, of course – and that’s exactly what happens here, with the surviving Kingsmen forced to connect with their American counterparts, the Statesmen, who use rope and Whiskey instead of umbrellas and suits to save the day. That team on the other side of the pond is made up of an all star cast of its own, including Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones), Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum and Halle Berry.
This time our enemy is the head of a drug empire, Polly, played with a similar playful touch as Samuel L Jackson before her by Julianne Moore. I don’t want to get into what Moore is up to – nor the film’s hilarious, if overplayed, cameo that accompanies it – but I will say her evil ploy is as creative as it is ridiculous, again not unlike what we saw in The Secret Service. And herein lies the problem with the film, that is often the case with sequels (Kick–Ass 2 suffered a similar fate, albeit without Vaughn at the helm): by trying to be too much like the first, it fails to achieve what its predecessor did so well, and that’s deliver a level of originality that sets the film apart from the pack. Strangely, The Golden Circle not only feels too much like its predecessor (all the way down to the criminal’s end game), but too much like the other epic comic book films that plague the market.
For starters: fight sequences that are stylish, but too repetitive and too long. You see this from the first scene in the film, an unnecessarily complicated car chase, filled with impressive camera angles and movements (as you’d remember from the fantastic church scene from the original film), but ultimately causing a bit of motion sickness along the way which seems unnecessary when you’re just “looking cool”. And the many action sequences that follow play by a similar beat – albeit outside of cars and with less implied motion sickness. The beauty of the original was that each fight scene brought something new to the table – here, it felt like much of the same.
As enjoyable as it was seeing Mr Darcy kick arse in the first film, bringing Colin Firth back after he very clearly died in the first film, bordered on being a crazy soap opera plot scenario, amnesia and all, that was resolved far too easily and felt an unnecessary distraction from the rest of the film. I almost feel it would have been a stronger film without him and the plot line that supported his return. And when it comes to some of the film’s best scenes, greatest cameo and more enjoyable jokes, they beat them with a dead horse – overusing to the point they stop being funny and start to feel like lazy writing. Though do look out for some excellent whiskey puns by Mark Strong, delivered so deadpan I think I was the only person in the theatre to laugh.
And therein lies the truth behind the film: in spite of its flaws, it’s still a very entertaining, and often hilarious ride. It’s just too long, and could have used a bit more variation in its delivery along the way. But let’s face it, as with almost every sequel, The Golden Circle was never going to live up to its predecessor because it inherently lost the chance to surprise; a factor which the original used to great advantage – something which Deadpool went on to borrow a year or so later. It turned out that swearing, sex and raunchy comedy worked well in a comic book film. If you can leave your expectations at the door, you will enjoy The Golden Circle for its great characters, entertaining and hilarious storyline and a return to the world so brilliantly developed in 2015. But if you can’t, you may find yourself watching a film which overstays its welcome, and for a film that follows on from one of the best in recent years, that indeed makes it an enjoyable disappointment.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Kingsmen: The Golden Circle hits cinemas today.