Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review – An Overstuffed, But Enjoyable Sequel

20th Century Fox

Released in 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service was yet another successful collaboration between filmmaker Matthew Vaughn and comic book writer Mark Millar. Based on Millar’s graphic novel of the same name, Kingsman delivered a stylish, ultra-violent, and frequently funny parody/homage to the excess-laden, Roger Moore-era Bond movies. Kingsman very easily could have been a mess but thanks to the central mentor-student relationship between Colin Firth’s Kingsman agent Galahad and his brash young protege Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the film had heartfelt emotional core that kept things from veering off track. Now two years later, Vaughn and Millar have teamed up again for Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a direct sequel that tries to up the ante in seemingly every way, with a bigger cast, even more bombastic action scenes, and a plot that seeks to expand the overall scope of the Kingsman universe. Thanks in large part to retaining the same creative team and principal actors, this is a sequel that doesn’t miss a beat in delivering the same absurd and cheeky experience that made the original Kingsman a hit, but those who enjoyed that film’s more grounded character moments may find themselves a bit put off by The Golden Circle’s increased focus on spectacle over substance.

The first Kingsman was unabashedly British, with a plot that, boiled down to its essence, involved the world being saved by classy British imperialism (and a bunch of cool spy gadgets). It’s somewhat jarring then to see The Golden Circle largely abandon the Queen’s country for lands abroad. Specifically, much of the film is set in Kentucky, which just so happens to be the home of the Kingsman agency’s overseas counterparts, the Statesman. The Golden Circle clears the board pretty early on with a devastating attack that leaves the Kingsman without a base of operations, forcing Eggsy and his trusty handler Merlin (a ridiculously good Mark Strong) to seek the help of their American allies. This move results in a nice bit of culture clash, as the suave Kingsman agents are forced to find common ground with their more uncouth, decidedly less stylish American cousins, whose defining traits are best exemplified by Channing Tatum’s Tequila, a good ol’ boy Statesman who initially doesn’t take kindly to finding a couple of British gentleman sneaking into his agency’s whisky distillery. Tatum isn’t the only new addition though, as the Statesman supply much of The Golden Circle’s new cast members, including Halle Berry as Ginger, the Statesman’s version of Merlin, Pedro Pascal as agent Whiskey, and none other than Jeff Bridges as their leader Champ.

20th Century Fox

While the Statesman are a welcome addition to the franchise, their presence underscores one of The Golden Circle’s biggest issues, which is that the film is cast with big name talent, most of which is totally underutilized. Bridges only gets a few scenes as Champ and even though he’s as good as he’s ever been — this is Jeff Bridges, after all — he seems to be there just to drink some whisky and chew the scenery (add something more here). Pedro Pascal gets the most to do as Whiskey, whose expert electric-lasso (yes, his main weapon is an electrified lasso) skills anchor some of the film’s best action sequences, but I get the sense that much of his role was supposed to be filled by Channing Tatum’s character. I’m not sure if scheduling conflicts are to blame, but Tatum is conspicuously absent for much of the film, which is disappointing not only because he’s a great actor, but he was also heavily featured in the film’s marketing. That isn’t a knock against Pascal, who does outstanding work here, but it’s just odd to see one of the film’s ostensible leads largely put on ice after the first act. Source: Indie Wire

Speaking of characters being swept aside, with the sole exception of Julianne Moore’s sweetly sadistic villain, The Golden Circle’s female characters are given precious little to do. At one point, Halle Berry’s Ginger complains about misogyny in the workplace and the fact that she keeps being denied agent status by the male Statesman, as if she’s actively calling out the film for her lesser role. The film then proceeds to largely ignore the point it seems to be making by sidelining Berry for much of the remaining runtime. But the biggest victim of this marginalization by far — and one who I fear will largely be overlooked by most viewers — is Sophie Cookson, who reprises her role as Eggsy’s fellow Kingsman agent Roxy. It was disappointing enough that Cookson didn’t have a bigger role in the first film, but she appears in The Golden Circle so little that I wonder why she was even brought back in the first place. I don’t know if this is all some elaborate comment by Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman on how Bond films frequently marginalize their own female characters, but I’m sure there must be a better way of making this point than actually committing the same fault.

And while I feel like Moore’s aforementioned villain — a drug kingpin named Poppy with an affinity for ’50s nostalgia and punishing treacherous henchmen in truly gut-churning ways — is a more intimidating presence than Samuel L. Jackson’s turn as a maniacal Silicon Valley billionaire from the first film, her actual world domination scheme isn’t as fleshed out or creative. Without spoiling anything, there just isn’t much in the way of substance to Poppy’s plans and even though her scheme raises some questions about the effectiveness of the “war on drugs” and whether the simple act of doing illegal drugs is a punishable act, it’s all just window dressing for the characters to shoot each other in elaborate ways. However, when said action is as wildly entertaining and creative as what’s on display here, perhaps it’s not a huge deal that a lot of it makes sense. The only knock against the action is that it’s perhaps too over-stylized, with Vaughn’s signature mix of slow-mo closeups and 360 degree pans sometimes making it difficult to follow the action on screen. There are also times, such as in the opening car chase through crowded London streets, where the CGI isn’t as convincing as it could be, but most of the action gets by on the strength of its ambition, making it easy to overlook such technical stumbles. Source: 20th Century Fox

I realize much of this review casts Kingsman: The Golden Circle in a negative light but even taking its problems into account, this is a very well-made sequel. Taron Egerton continues to prove he can carry a movie as a leading man and even though it takes some time to truly get going, his reunion with Colin Firth’s Harry Hart/Galahad pays off by the time the explosive third act kicks into high gear. The ending leaves the door wide open for a third installment — something that Matthew Vaughn has already revealed he’s in the planning stages on — and I think that would be a good place to end things, assuming The Golden Circle earns enough to justify a full trilogy order.

I hate to end this off with an oversimplified summary such as “if you liked the first Kingsman, you’ll like this one too” but in this case, it’s an apt sentiment. The Golden Circle retains the same look and feel as the first, while introducing enough new characters, gadgets, and uproarious moments of comedy — the film’s best laughs come from a surprise cameo, which I will not spoil here — so as to not feel like a derivative retread. In this way, it’s actually quite similar to the Bond movies it pays tribute to, but whether The Golden Circle more closely resembles a bottom feeder like Die Another Day than a top tier Bond outing like The Spy Who Loved Me will depend a lot on how much you enjoyed Kingsman’s subversive, brazen tone the first go around.


Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a competent, well-executed sequel that should please fans of the original.

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)