A sequel to 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was an inevitable but welcome prospect. After all, that film did for spies what Kick-Ass did for comic-book superheroes, and raked in more than $400m worldwide. Director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman adhered only loosely to Mark Millar’s comic source material first time out, and here they have free rein to go in whichever direction they want.
It’s a shame then that it’s played so safe, lacking the edge that made the first film memorable. It starts well enough, with a deliriously OTT scrap inside a London cab, as Eggsy (Taron Egerton) fends off a familiar assailant. Inventively shot and breathlessly paced, it’s an energising opening that’s brimming with Bond-turned-up-to-11 gusto, swagger and gadgetry.
There are a couple more brash set-pieces to enjoy later, but it’s a while before the pace picks up again, and the main plotline – our hero is forced to go rogue when a crime syndicate targets his fellow Kingsmen – is the well-trodden terrain of recent 007 and Ethan Hunt missions.
The Firth Amendment
Teaming up with Kingsman’s tech support, Merlin (Mark Strong, ever-reliable), Eggsy follows a clue that leads him to a whiskey distillery in the American South, a front for the US-equivalent of Kingsman. Led by Jeff Bridges’ Champ and Channing Tatum’s Tequila, the Statesmen are a welcome addition to the fold, though it’s hard not to mask the impression that Bridges and Tatum were only available for a couple of days’ shooting.
It’s through the Statesmen that Eggsy discovers his presumed-dead former mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), seemingly alive and well. The role fits Firth like a made-to-measure Oxford shoe, but the manner of his return is a bit of a letdown, given the secrecy that has surrounded it. It’s another ‘too safe’ moment in a film that should have taken more risks.
Julianne Moore is great fun as Poppy, a drug kingpin – Vaughn describes her as “Martha Stewart on crack” – holed up in an Americana-styled lair in the Cambodian jungle. But her masterplan stretches credulity in this comic-book world’s internal logic. Nabbing the biggest laughs of all is a very well-deployed Elton John. Mercifully, this is one sequel that hasn’t gone darker. The cast uniformly emit full-beam charm, so it’s never a chore to be in their company.
More problematic is the lack of any real arc this time around. The lad-to-lord transition of the first film is sorely missed, as is the contrast between Eggsy’s working-class background and the highfalutin Secret Service. The Transatlantic team-up just doesn’t offer the same zing. As a result, The Golden Circle often feels precisely tailored when it should’ve been cut a little looser.