Movie review: Kingsmen saddle up for sequel, ‘The Golden Circle’

On paper, the Kingsman sequel, “The Golden Circle,” looks like it has all the right elements. It features the same details we loved about the first film, “The Secret Service,” such as over-the-top action, quirky humor, lots of unrealistic but super fun spy gadgets, and a sense of British charm. Then, to keep things fresh, the sequel adds in a new wonderfully cheesy super-villain and the Kingsmen’s American counterparts, the Statesmen. However, even though “The Golden Circle” is a fun, entertaining movie, the final product doesn’t live up to its predecessor.

In “The Golden Circle,” Eggsy, a.k.a. “Agent Galahad” (Taron Egerton), is now a full-fledged spy and proud member of the Kingsman secret service, though he still mourns the loss of his mentor, former Agent Galahad Harry Hart (Colin Firth). His latest mission is investigating an unlikely drug lord, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). In order to stop Poppy’s nefarious plans, he’ll have to team up with the Kingsmen’s partner organization from the U.S., the Statesmen.

At first it was a little tough for me to pinpoint why I didn’t enjoy the sequel quite as much as the first film (kind of similar to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” earlier this summer, actually). As a viewing experience overall, it just didn’t feel as funny or clever as the first. Perhaps that’s a symptom of the first movie being such a surprise; it felt like a treat to discover “The Secret Service,” a quirky spy flick that almost slipped under my radar.

Here’s the parts I did like: Taron Egerton is great as Agent Galahad, and I love how he brings a different perspective to the very formal Kingsmen, since he’s not an aristocrat. I also like how he really wears his heart on his sleeve; we’ve seen plenty of spies who are cool, calm, and collected, always keeping their emotions locked behind a bulletproof shield. But Eggsy isn’t ashamed of his more sensitive side, and there’s a quite lovely moment towards the beginning of the film where he gets a little choked up as he remembers his mentor, Harry Hart.

And speaking of Harry Hart… Although I know it’s a common complaint that franchise films kill off and then miraculously bring back their main characters a little too flippantly, I don’t mind that “The Golden Circle” brought back Hart after a seemingly point-of-no-return in “The Secret Service.” These Kingsman movies are designed to be over-the-top and crazy, so why not bring back Hart? It’s a pleasure to see the always-dapper Colin Firth in some of these delightfully cheesy scenes.

I also enjoyed how they sent up American stereotypes with the cowboy-esque Statesmen agents, named after different types of alcohol. I wished they found a way to work Jeff Bridges’ Agent Champagne into the plot more, but perhaps an extended cameo was all that time/budget allowed. Same goes for Channing Tatum’s Agent Tequila, although the film’s closing scenes indicate we haven’t seen the last of him. I also thought Pedro Pascal did a good job as Agent Whiskey, and it was fun to see Halle Berry as Ginger Ale, the American counterpart to Mark Strong’s Merlin, the Kingsmen’s tech guru.

I loved that the first Kingsman movie had such as fun, cheesy villain (played with relish by Samuel L. Jackson), and Julianne Moore also seems to be having a good time as a sort of dark, would-be “Martha Stewart.” I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about her villain plan, though. Sort-of spoiler alert — Poppy poisons the world’s supply of recreational drugs and then holds the antidote hostage. I couldn’t figure out whether the movie was intending to make a statement about the war on drugs or if it was just a plot point. If the former, what was that message? Stop the war on drugs? Just have people stop taking these drugs? To me it just felt odd to work this very serious issue into what’s supposed to be an action comedy. Maybe it didn’t bother others, but it was one of the things that felt “off” to me. I won’t go into more details, but the meat grinder scene was also a little too much for me (and really, that’s all I want to say about that!)

Even though the sequel isn’t as good as the first, I still had a fun time at the theater and there are some really good moments here. I felt like the Elton John cameo was worth the price of admission, all on its own. John Denver’s “Country Roads” will also bring a tear to my eye the next time I hear it.

So, what did you think? Did you like the sequel? What worked, and what didn’t?

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