As one who considers himself a fan of 2014’s delightfully bonkers British secret agent spoof “Kingsmen,” I was among those looking forward to seeing a continuation of the Kingsmen shenanigans in the sequel, “Kingsmen: The Golden Circle.”
While the latest move packs the same energetic ultraviolent punch as the original, for all the non-stop fun, brilliant set pieces and new characters, with a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, the fun factor — and my bladder — suffered slightly for the film’s extended length.
For all the fun of “Kingsmen: The Secret Service,” “Golden Circle” is (by comparison) longer, more bloated, and slightly less entertaining. Entertaining, no doubt, but ...slightly less so than the original.
Director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman, both returning from the 2014 surprise hit based on the 007-skewing graphic novel, let the story sprawl out over 141 minutes, even though much of it is just a retread of last time — a villain whose ultimate goal is a perversion of progressive politics, whose co-conspirators’ bodies are marked with a symbol that gives them away, plans to infect the entire population with a mind-controlling virus.
I expect when Samuel L. Jackson (who played Richmond Valentine, the villain in the first movie) was among the people who thought all the proceedings sounded suspiciously familiar.
It starts with a bang, with a terrific fight in and around a speeding taxi between our hero, lower-class-chav-turned-proper-British spy Eggsy (Taron Egerton), and Charlie (Edward Holcroft), a former Kingsman applicant who’s now a bad guy with a robotic arm. At no point do the computer-generated stunts look entirely convincing, but the sequence is ludicrous fun.
From there, things level off a bit, as the story continues to reference the James Bond formula without technically satirizing it.
Charlie is working for Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a grinning American woman who runs the world’s most powerful drug cartel from her ’50s-themed villain’s lair in the jungles of Cambodia, where she’s protected by numerous goons and a pair of vicious robot attack dogs. Oh, she’s also kidnapped Elton John to perform on command, having used Valentine’s mass abduction of celebrities in the previous film as cover to steal one for herself. Personally, I would have chosen Paul McCartney or Jeff Lynne, but that’s just me.
Her sinister plan involves tainting her products, which run the gamut from marijuana to heroin to meth, with a deadly disease and extorting the world for the antidote. But first she’ll need to eliminate Kingsman.
Kingsman, you’ll recall, is England’s top-secret, off-the-books spy agency operating out of a fancy tailor’s shop on Savile Row. Eggsy’s mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), was (cough, cough) “killed” last time, leaving tech-expert Merlin (Mark Strong) to guide him. Now they must join forces with their American cousins, Statesman, which operates out of a whiskey distillery in Kentucky.
Here’s where the film could have had a more fun, introducing the audience to the good ol’ boys who are counterparts to our well-dressed British spies.
Vaughn assembled a good cast here: Channing Tatum as the cocky, Southern Eggsy equivalent, code-named Tequila; Jeff Bridges as the big boss, Champagne, who goes by Champ; Halle Berry as Ginger Ale (ugh), the doctor and technician.
But the three — Bridges in particular — are given next to nothing to do, confined to Statesman headquarters while another agent, Whiskey (played by the much less famous Pedro Pascal), is assigned to assist Eggsy, Merlin, and the “Hey, he’s alive!” Harry Hart on their globe-trotting mission.
Vaughn is rightly proud of his knack for creating action sequences that are frenetic but not chaotic in a variety of settings, but the rub is that many of them are gratuitous, padding out a thin story to the point of overkill, and yes, I appreciate the irony of a movie that often revels in overkill becoming the victim of it.
There’s are numerous tangents in “Golden Circle” — at one point, Eggys and/or Whiskey must seduce a girl at a concert to place a tracking device ...um ..I’ll say on her (to say more would elicit groans that the entire audience audibly emitted during this uncomfortable scene), there’s another bit where the agents must retrieve a sample of the antidote, only to shortly have to find another sample elsewhere, etc. There’s a domestic subplot with Eggsy and his girlfriend, the princess of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom), dragging out an uncomfortable joke from the end of the last film (don’t ask).
Conversely, there are some scenes which work extremely well — such as Eggy’s surprisingly emotional method of prompting the initially amnesiac Harry Hart to remember who he is, a spin on the original “Manners Maketh Man” sequence from the first film, and the Kingsmen’s final raid on Poppy’s lair, but even the elements that work well, suffer somewhat from overfamiliarity: we spend too much time with them, and it’s quantity, not quality.
For as much madcap fun as the original “Kinsgmen” was, the sequel, while undeniably enjoyable, would benefit greatly from a shorter run time. I’d love to see a more concise, 90-minute version of this movie — that’d be just right.
“Kingsmen: The Golden Circle” is rated R for plentiful, harsh profanity, abundant bloody violence, some sexual — and gross — vulgarity, and gratuitous use of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”