The film’s narrative seems designed to check the boxes for a spy movie sequel. After a taxi cab battle set piece, a devastating attack by drug kingpin/50’s Americana connoisseur/Elton John fangirl/cannibal Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) cripples the British spy organization Kingsman. In the aftermath, remaining members Eggsy (Taron Egerton), Merlin (Mark Strong), and Harry (Colin Firth) receive assistance from the Kingsman’s wealthier, more technologically advanced American cousin: The Statesmen. The two organizations then team up on a globetrotting adventure to put an end to Poppy’s nefarious plan.
Of course, the charm of a Kingsman film is not in the plot itself, but in its presentation. The Golden Circle maintains the series’ hallmark obscenity, gratuitous violence, and ludicrously over the top characters and world building. Director Matthew Vaughn’s artistic sensibilities are front and center with incredibly intricate fight choreography, kinetic editing, and uncomfortably blunt depictions of sexuality and gore. A jungle brawl late in the film is the standout sequence, combining an array of gadgets, robots, henchmen, and makeshift weaponry into a delightfully absurd mix. However, as entertaining as it is, it feels almost pedestrian compared to the go-for-broke insanity of the first film’s climax.
While none of the film’s many actors are asked to do any real heavy lifting, they are almost uniformly charming. The immense likability of the cast can actually make the viewer feel shortchanged, since the size of the cast and scope of the plot mean that each character only gets a few moments in the spotlight. Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman rely on the charisma of their leads to cover up the lack of character development. The Statesman members Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Tequila (Channing Tatum), and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) suffer the most as a result, functioning as archetypes rather than characters.
The film’s treatment of its female characters disappoints as well. In The Secret Service, Roxy and Eggsy played as a superspy version of Hermione Granger and Harry Potter: platonic best friends whose skillsets complement each other. In The Golden Circle, Roxy and the rest of the women in the film serve only to advance the plot or provide motivation for the male leads. Poppy somewhat avoids this pitfall, simply by the virtue of Julianne Moore’s scenery chewing, but even she is given less characterization and screen time than the first film’s villain.
Issues extend to other areas of the film’s script. The 141-minute runtime is bloated with extraneous subplots and scenes, including another rehash of the pub fight from the first film, an abrupt detour to Glastonbury Festival, and subplots involving Harry’s recovery from the injury he sustained in The Secret Service, Eggsy and Tilde’s relationship drama, and the Oval Office during the crisis. The relatively grounded character drama doesn’t mesh very well with the darkly comic tone of the main plot and set pieces, leaving the movie feeling uneven.
The film’s politics are similarly muddled. The Golden Circle takes passing shots at politicians, the military, greed, and chauvinism as well as both pro- and anti-drug legalization activists without any real regard for consistency. It simultaneously idolizes and mocks traditional masculinity and proper manners. The film seems to know that the trappings of aristocracy are pointless, but at the same time is so enamored with them that it can’t help but to support them. In another film, it might not be as problematic, but the overall lack of subtlety in the film makes its mixed messaging more noticeable.
Based solely on aesthetic, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an unqualified success. The mixture of cynical satire, black humor and wild action make for an intoxicating blend, but significant structural flaws hamper the film’s charms. The clunky writing stands in stark contrast to the polished production, resulting in an interesting but rather ungainly film.