When studios decide to make a sequel to a beloved (or financially successful) movie, they are walking a fine line. To make a successful sequel, you not only have to bring back all of the elements that clicked with audiences to begin with, but to keep it from feeling stagnant, you have to up the ante by delivering bigger and better ideas, struggles and character development. Often, these decisions fail — either the movie doesn’t go far enough and the film feels like a repetitive money grab, or they go too far, and it doesn’t feel anything like the original… it becomes too over-the-top or silly for its own good. But when you’re able to find the right balance between heightening the story, expanding the lore, and giving fans what they liked with extra bite, fans will continue to follow the characters wherever you take them. Kingsman: The Golden Circle falls into the latter category, as it brings back everything we loved of the original in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a tedious retread.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the Kingsman trainee who failed to pass the final test when he wouldn’t “shoot” his dog, but then regained his status when he helped save the world from the maniacal Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), is back on the job, having taken over the codename Galahad from his now deceased mentor. What surprised and delighted me more than seeing Eggsy as an official spy was that he was involved with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), whom we last saw locked in a cell waiting for Eggsy to ravish her after saving the world. Seeing that this moment wasn’t just some James Bond fling, and turning the tryst with a basically superfluous character into a relationship is a fun little twist, one that plays perfectly into the rest of the film.
And Tilde isn’t the only character we might not have expected to return. Charlie (Edward Halcroft), the candidate who was banished when he easily gave up the secrets of the Kingsman when he thought his life was on the line, shows up with a robotic arm and a grudge to grind. The movie starts with a whiplash fight sequence through the streets of London as Charlie and Eggsy fight for supreme dominance. It’s a fun, kinetic rumble that pushes the boundaries of the stunt choreography from the first film, but remains as slick and silly. None of the action sequences in the first film were meant to be taken seriously, and neither do these, as they give a wink and a nod to some of the most ludicrous fight sequences in the spy days of yore.
After Eggsy deftly escapes, a piece of tech left behind by Charlie allows him to hack into the Kingsman database, which leads to the death of all Kingsman operatives, including Roxy (Sophi Cookson), aka Lancelot, who I thought deserved better from this movie. Then again, her death does continue the franchises notion that no one, not even main characters, are safe from death. Eggsy was spared because he was at a dinner with Tilde’s parents (Björn Granath and Lena Endre) in a romantic, very funny sequence that allows Eggsy to show off his “knowledge” of everything in the world, while trying to stop his friend from playing around with his gadgets back home.
Also spared is Merlin (Mark Strong), who’s residence wasn’t part of the Kingsman database. The two boys decide to activate their doomsday protocol, which leads them to Kentucky, where they meet the American version of the Kingsman known as the Statesman. Whereas the Kingsman use tailoring as a cover, the Statesman are all about the alcohol, using code names like Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Tequila (Channing Tatum). The head of the Statesman is Champagne (Jeff Bridges), otherwise known as Champ. Having the boys we know team up with this rowdy bunch of distillers is fun to watch, as their proper British personalities clash with the southern twang of their spy cousins.
Together, the group discovers another nefarious plot, this time run by a morally decrepit drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore). To show how nefarious this woman is, in her first scene, she not only has a new recruit send one of her old colleagues into a meat grinder to prove his loyalty, she then turns around and forces the new recruit to eat a hamburger especially made from that fresh meat. In a dastardly attempt at legalizing all drugs so that she can step from the shadows and become a legitimate businesswomen, Poppy has poisoned all of her drugs with a slow-gestating virus that will kill all of her customers unless the President (Bruce Greenwood, having maniacal fun of his own) agrees to her terms. He has no reason to, though, as having all the druggies die would solve the drug problem, right? So it’s up to Eggsy, Merlin and the Statesman to stop Poppy and save millions of lives.
The scenario as stated doesn’t seem all that unrealistic, nor did the scenario in the first film. Each one could conceivably happen, but Matthew Vaughn makes them feel insanely impossible by making them seem so ridiculously “mad scientist” evil. Which is the whole point of these films. It’s taking what we love so much from the spy genre and heightening it so far beyond belief that it makes fun of the genre while paying homage to it. There are a lot of great moments in this film, and the character development stays true to everyone involved. When Eggsy gets caught in a situation that would compromise his ethics as a human being, he does what he believes is the right thing to do, but hurts someone in the process. He ends up respecting his own moral code by not going through with the act, even though his mission remains a success. It’s one example of how Vaughn isn’t willing to compromise the integrity of his characters just to make a few more dollars at the box office.
I can’t say that Kingsman: The Golden Circle is better than the original, because I don’t believe it is; there are some moments, jokes and cameos that quite land the way they should have, and there’s a couple of setups that don’t blossom correctly. However, the film remains on par with the original. The fight scenes continue to be choreographed to some of the oddest music choices, absurd elements are brilliantly explained, and when Vaughn can get away with a great emotional punch by killing yet another major character that you won’t see come back in the threequel (because if they do, it’s going to take a lot of suspension of disbelief, even for this franchise), you know you’ve done justice to your fans.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include American Made, Flatliners, ‘Til Death Do Us Part and A Question of Faith. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.