An unfortunate curse has seemed to befall Hollywood that dictates any Matthew Vaughn directed blockbuster must eventually be followed by a disappointing sequel. Vaughn avoided the blame with Kick-Ass 2, which took the crude humour of its predecessor to offensive levels, and X-Men: Apocalypse, Bryan Singer’s anachronistic love letter to 80s schlock that squandered the genius premise of the period piece science-fiction.
Vaughn returns to the chair here, however, to pull the trigger himself. Whilst Kingsman: The Golden Circle retains the visual flair, speed-ramped fight scenes, and popcorn humour of the original, it all feels a little obligatory, and much of its kitsch and cast are wasted.
The titular Kingsmen are this time faced with the always lovely Julianne Moore’s eccentric druglord Poppy, who plans to hold the world at ransom with a new deadly strain of narcotics.
Teaming up with their American cousins, the Statesmen, Vaughn tantalisingly promises us Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum, instead delivering extended roles for Pedro Pascal, a surprisingly charming presence — though no Bridges or Tatum — and Elton John, a glittery joke that goes on for far too long.
The Kingsman sequel is longer, glitzier, and stranger, but far too cruel and flippant to be worthy of its refreshing predecessor. By the time a particular character performs a stirring rendition of Take Me Home, Country Roads before anarchy ensues, Colin Firth destroys a robot dog with a bowling ball, and Elton John delivers a flying kick to the face, I could only think that this is the stuff bad sequels are made of. We’re in Spider-Man 3 territory here, and, while I was never bored, I was frequently astounded by Vaughn’s courage at putting something so bonkers to screen.
What makes the film quite a bit lesser than harmless fun is its commitment to embracing the sexism the original was accused of. A potentially interesting foil to Taron Edgerton’s brash and streetwise Eggsy, fellow agent Roxy is dispatched in the first act to make room for Tilde, the Swedish princess from the final gag of the first film that fell flat for so many and now remains a consistent presence as Eggsy’s long-term girlfriend.
Seemingly an attempt to respond to the criticism of the original joke, her role, in reality, feels like over-compensation following a subversion of the ladies’ man spy trope that missed the mark, and each exchange just feels off. But don’t worry; they manage to fit this subversion into the sequel in a crude sequence at Glastonbury music festival, and this time it’s even worse.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is at its best when spending time with Bruce Greenwood’s unashamedly Trumpish President, who responds to Poppy’s plan of world-domination with an equally supervillainous containment plan.
A slice from a particularly biting, dystopian science-fiction, these scenes provide a darkly humorous commentary on the war on drugs, though, despite a 2 hour and 20-minute runtime, little is said here beyond a thinly veiled critique of the Trump administration, with some obvious parallels to Reagan.
A Trump parody is always welcome, but Greenwood’s performance deserves far better material, and the believability of the ropey visual effects’ attempts to convey the President’s large-scale plan is, at times, stretched to breaking point.
Throughout the film, slow pans and zooms into computer rendered buildings that merge with physical sets are straight out of a Robert Rodriguez kids movie, and the long-take fights now contain so much visual effects gadgetry, what started as successfully stylised action now feels plastic and weightless.
Vaughn should be commended for maintaining a defiantly adult and subversive franchise for this long in the wake of the shallow homogeneity blockbusters and sequels can often fall into, but after a summer of films that actually hit the mark more often than not, a sequel to Kingsman sadly feels like an afterthought.
Though the film certainly drags, its lengthy run-time isn’t too harsh a detriment as Vaughn paces the film with relentless fight scenes and set pieces that never bore but frequently alienate.
An admirable effort to go above and beyond, The Golden Circle is disappointingly garish and obscene and fails to reach the fresh and subversive highs of the first film. A pitch-perfect country-western cover of Cameo’s Word Up comes close to saving the ridiculous third act but, as ever with Matthew Vaughn, the visuals were far too overpowering.