Kingsman: The Secret Service proved to be one of 2015’s most beloved surprise hits on the big screen, seemingly taking even its distributor, 20th Century Fox off guard. Adapted from the comic book series, The Secret Service, first published by Marvel’s Icon imprint in 2012, the since-re-branded Kingsman franchise ended up being well-received by audiences and massively profitable for Fox upon the release of its first film adaptation, resulting in the predictable decision to fast-track franchise plans for a movie that was previously being treated as a one-off. The fact that Fox didn’t seem to initially believe that there would be sequels to Kingsman is all over the follow-up that has now arrived as well, that being Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which is expanding the Kingsman movie continuity with an all-new story.
Since this sequel is venturing into uncharted territory, and no longer has a comic book foundation to adapt, you can imagine that this is a dicey sequel in some respects, and it’s one that’s divided critics and moviegoers alike. In many respects, it feels like Kingsman: The Golden Circle is 2017’s Suicide Squad, another movie that drastically divided audiences last year (even if critics were more uniform in their hatred of it), namely by being an undeniably messy and over-stuffed experience that some just won’t be able to get behind due to its obvious structural issues, while others will simply be able to sit back and enjoy the insanity, and be perfectly satisfied with the irreverent cinematic high that they’ve just consumed.
It’s been fascinating to see my fellow critics fall all over the spectrum of satisfaction with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, as the movie currently sits at an even 50% critic split on review aggregate, Rotten Tomatoes to boot. This makes it an interesting challenge to assess, since this is a very polarizing movie that you may love or hate, depending on your tastes, mood and company when going to see it. For what it’s worth though, I personally fall into the camp of people who very much enjoyed Kingsman: The Golden Circle, even if I do nonetheless feel that the first movie was better, and definitely more tightly paced. You may need to reset some of your expectations, but if you’re coming for the comic book-style fun in particular, and happened to enjoy the original Kingsman movie, then Kingsman: The Golden Circle nonetheless makes for one of the better September movie releases this year.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle once again stars Taron Egerton as Eggsy Unwin, after Egerton’s big breakout role was featured in the original Kingsman movie. Egerton is once again a real delight in this part, being a cocky, youthful James Bond parody that is now the perfect embodiment of what the Kingsman organization is supposed to represent. Eggsy’s rough street roots are barely acknowledged in this sequel, beyond a quick scene or two around the beginning, and that is a bit of a shame, but the character is no less enjoyable here, especially when he’s still more than capable of carrying the action scenes.
Also returning from the first movie are Mark Strong as Kingsman trainer and tech expert, Merlin, and Edward Holcroft as Charlie, one of the rejected Kingsman applicants, who is now a bionic-powered henchman that’s working for the villain of this sequel. Both characters also crank up the ass-kicking dial in this sequel, though they also carry a bit less relatable sincerity for most of the movie, which is one of the side effects of this sequel feeling a bit overstuffed. Now that Eggsy is fully trained, Merlin feels like a cool, but largely unremarkable tag-along, while Charlie is a pretty one-note foil to Eggsy, whose main hook is his bionic arm. This may be an intentional satire of gimmick-based Bond villains and their lack of backstories, but considering that there was definitely more implied depth and personality to henchwoman, Gazelle in the first movie, it’s a bit disappointing to see that there isn’t much mined from the antagonistic Eggsy/Charlie relationship, beyond pure action-fueling animosity.
But of course the biggest returning presence in Kingsman: The Golden Circle is Colin Firth as Harry Hart/Galahad, who is brought back into the movie with a credibility-massacring retcon that nonetheless feels fairly at home in the proudly absurd Kingsman film universe. Harry being killed off in the first movie feels like the biggest indication that the original Kingsman movie was being treated as a one-off before its huge surprise success, since, now that Fox wants a big franchise out of that movie all of a sudden, the studio and writers have clearly had to quickly start scrambling to find an excuse to undo Harry’s rather indisputable death from the previous movie. It’s great to have Firth back here, since he really is one of the key personalities of these movies, though it’s also true that he’s benched for most of the movie, and doesn’t really get a fulfilling role until about halfway through the second act of the story, whereupon he does become that same lovably refined superspy that he was in the first movie, mostly, beyond one added curveball that I won’t spoil.
Beyond these returning faces, there are a ton of new characters in this movie, which also somewhat includes Hanna Alstrom as Princess Tilde, Eggsy’s girlfriend that started as a quick ending gag in the first movie, but is now Eggsy’s steady romantic partner in this sequel. There’s not really much to say about Tilde though, since she’s just kind of there to try and give Eggsy something to fight for, now that Kingsman as an operation is destroyed fairly early on. Disappointingly, the same sense of being tacked on is often true of the individual Statesmen, the American counterparts to the Kingsmen whom Eggsy and Merlin are forced to seek help from, with most of them basically being bit parts for various well-known celebrities, likely only cast in these otherwise tiny roles because Fox wants a spin-off movie made about them. In fact, writer-director, Matthew Vaughn has already confirmed that this is indeed the plan. The only Statesman with a decent-sized role and heavy bearing on the plot is Pedro Pascal as Jack Daniels, a.k.a. Whiskey (get it?), the Statesman agent that accompanies Eggsy, and is largely defined by an implied tragic backstory, along with an electric lasso that does lend itself to some pretty amazing action moments.
This brings me to the movie’s main villain, Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, the most powerful drug queen in the world, who is a big mess of gimmicks. Poppy lives in an isolated jungle, within a shrine to 1950’s nostalgia, and employs robot dogs and automaton stylists, whom she apparently prefers to human henchmen (yet despite this, she has scads of human henchmen?), while also grinding up misbehaving henchmen into burger meat to literally serve to new recruits. Moore’s performance is definitely the best part of Poppy, since Moore plays her with this delightfully sinister over-the-top sweetness that is just tons of fun. Moore is clearly having a ball in this part, and better still is that she’s allowed to play off of the movie’s major celebrity guest, which is another highlight performance by a famous singer that I won’t spoil the identity of. Said singer has a surprisingly hefty amount of scenes, but they’re very amusing in their part, and feel like the biggest callback to Kingsman’s comic book source material, which made use of celebrity cameos as part of its plot.
The thing about Kingsman: The Golden Circle is, everyone gives a good performance, and everyone is clearly having a great time, though some characters are either under-used, ill-defined, or both. Poppy in particular feels like a byproduct of numerous villain ideas that were clumsily stitched together, without committing to a single theme or vision that allows her grand plot to truly make sense in any way, even by the standards of this ridiculous world. Likewise, it feels like most of the Statesmen really are only here to set up a spin-off, giving you a tease of potential things to come for the likes of Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal and Channing Tatum, especially since Bridges, Berry and Tatum are barely in the movie, and don’t feel like they contribute all that much to the story, beyond giving Eggsy and Merlin a means to reunite with Harry and get some new gear. You’ll still have fun with the personalities, but the surprising sincerity and depth in the original Kingsman sadly doesn’t seem to have been replicated for this follow-up, which feels like it’s more about the fun and style than anything else.
As I’ve mentioned, the storyline behind Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a bit of a mess, and definitely smacks of trying to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. This movie is also one of the longest movies to hit theatres this year, clocking in at a rather lengthy 141-minute runtime, though in fairness, if you really get into the fun and action, it doesn’t feel nearly that long. There are definitely lulls here and there though, especially when the movie has to focus on characters and subplots that are blatantly just not developed enough to make the proper impression. Kingsman: The Golden Circle probably would have felt like a more tight, universally enjoyable experience if it didn’t try to cram in so many ideas all at once, and had streamlined itself a little more.
That said though, the highlight moments do make the slower stretches worth it, even when several scenes clearly needed to be trimmed down. For every overly drawn-out sequence that disturbs the pacing, there’s a fun, stylish moment of excitement to make up for it, resulting in a story that’s just as insane as the first movie, if also not as clever. Poppy’s plans, while having a solid amount of real-world commentary if you dig into them, don’t fully add up (something that even the fictionalized U.S. President played by Bruce Greenwood points out), and the fact that the story aggressively kills off many of its connections to the first movie, yet also constantly calls back to it while adding in a mess of new characters and storylines, leads to an aggressive expansion of the Kingsman film universe that kind of feels like too much, too soon. It’s not a dealbreaker though, since the plot of Kingsman: The Golden Circle is quite entertaining overall, even if it definitely feels unpolished and rather sloppy in many places.
Matthew Vaughn returns as writer and director of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, putting together the script alongside his usual writing partner, Jane Goldman, after the two collaborated on the original Kingsman movie in the same roles. This definitely has Kingsman: The Golden Circle echoing the style and general flavour of its predecessor, with Vaughn and Goldman clearly going wild with script ideas, even if this does lead to a busy, messy follow-up. Despite this however, there’s no questioning that Vaughn directs the hell out of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, a movie that’s just as balls-out energetic and in-your-face as its predecessor was, for better or for worse.
Vaughn’s hyper-stylized direction leans even further into comic book territory in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, despite this follow-up ironically not adapting a comic book this time, and instead trying to expand that adaptation’s world with an original new story. Some may be disappointed that Kingsman: The Golden Circle is more blatantly a comic book movie than a spy movie now (this will further highlight the unpredictable reactions one may have to the movie as well, depending on which subgenre of movie they prefer), but there’s still a decent amount of clever spy satire in this follow-up, even if the first movie did it better.
If you are coming for the style though, then you’ll definitely get a movie that never fails to engage the audience. Helping this further is the fact that, even in passive scenes, the cinematography and sets in Kingsman: The Golden Circle are outstanding, with Vaughn doing just as brilliant a job of bringing this world to life as he and Goldman did in the previous movie. This is a gorgeously-produced sequel that is a constant delight to look at, even during some of its drawn-out and less interesting moments. Even if the first movie felt more clever and novel, it’s clear that there’s a special flavour to Kingsman as a franchise that feels very unique to Vaughn’s and Goldman’s touch, and this sequel manages to provide the same effectively wired, murderous anarchy, making it feel like an intimately directed follow-up with polish to spare.
The score of Kingsman: The Golden Circle is once again composed by the duo of Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson, and once again, it fits the crazy, bombastic style of this movie to a tee. The first movie’s soundtrack felt a bit more novel and memorable, but the second movie’s musical score is still pretty good fun, especially during those crescendos where it once again brings in some familiar licensed songs. If nothing else, you’re once again getting a soundtrack with plenty of personality, even if it can sometimes be just as proudly obnoxious as its personalities.
That brings me to the rest of the audio and sound mixing, which is definitely cranked up to eleven! Those in premium formats like IMAX especially will notice that Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a very loud, bombastic movie, one that’s occasionally overwhelming from the sheer depths of its pandemonium. If you’re looking for a sophisticated spy movie, this definitely isn’t it, particularly in terms of the audio, where it’s instead about making as much noise and demonstrating as much destructive power as the movie possibly can. If that’s your cup of tea, then you’ll have fun, though you may also want to exercise caution if you don’t like movies that quite literally assault your senses at times.
As I mentioned, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is often a very visually impressive movie, in terms of its set design, its action moments and its overall style. Because of the effort to go bigger and more explosive in this sequel however, there is a heavier emphasis on CGI in the action scenes, likely to enhance the comic book flavouring that makes everything more over-the-top. This won’t be to everyone’s tastes, since it divorces Kingsman: The Golden Circle pretty much completely from any degree of realism, instead tipping the experience completely into comic book territory, where everyone might as well have superpowers in the majority of action scenes. If that’s what you happen to enjoy, then great, but if you happened to like some of the more grounded action moments of the original Kingsman, then you may be disappointed that they’re pretty much entirely gone in this follow-up.
My screening of Kingsman: The Golden Circle was also in IMAX, which largely served to crank up the overbearing audio even further. The wide shots and panning shots that are meant to show off set pieces also benefit from the IMAX screen, where they’re given a slight added sense of scale, but it’s not really essential. Since Kingsman: The Golden Circle is only available in 2D especially, you don’t really lose that much when you just watch a regular digital showing, even if the IMAX upgrade certainly doesn’t take anything away either. You’re getting a visually polished and engaging movie experience either way, so whether or not you go IMAX, assuming you have the option, is probably up to personal preference in this case.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun, but messy follow-up that is definitely going to divide people. On the one hand, it’s visually stimulating, exciting, and offers a more than adequate amount of entertainment value for people who already enjoyed the first movie. On the other hand though, the over-stuffed plot and over-abundance of superfluous or under-developed characters prevents Kingsman: The Golden Circle from carrying the same outstanding wit as its predecessor, even if it at least manages glimmers of it in several places.
Whether or not you enjoy Kingsman: The Golden Circle is going to be an especially subjective matter. This can’t be a clear-cut recommendation one way or the other. That said, I can safely say that if you watched and enjoyed the first Kingsman movie, then you’ll find that this sequel is also worth watching, even if you’ll likely prefer the first movie over this one. If you keep an open mind and are primarily in it for the zany, mischevious fun though, then Kingsman: The Golden Circle is certainly a fitting follow-up to its beloved predecessor, if also not a perfect one.
- Plenty of entertaining performances from new and returning personalities
- Enjoyably frenetic, over-the-top action
- Strong visual design, with tight direction throughout
- Too many under-utilized characters, especially the Statesmen
- Messy, overlong storyline that sometimes drags
- Lacks the same sharp wit as the first Kingsman movie