Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Twentieth Century Fox, R)

The first Kingsman movie was a bit of a sleeper. No one that I knew really knew about it, nobody really talked about it, and it didn’t have a very large marketing campaign. I saw maybe three or four ads for it. About two weeks after its release, people couldn’t stop praising it.

Kingsman: The Secret Service wasn’t a huge hit, it just had a little bit longer of a fuse than what we expect. It was a poor man’s James Bond, a rags to riches tale full of guns and super villains, and better yet, it had a knack for comedic flair that didn’t come across as groaningly cheesy.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle had some precariously big shoes to fill. The first film’s unexpected clamor hit viewers with little to no expectations hard, and that causes a bit of an issue for a lot of films aiming to make sequels. A good movie to someone going in with no expectations becomes a great movie, and regardless of whether Kingsman: The Secret Service lives up to that impression on subsequent viewings (it absolutely does) it makes going into a sequel, well, difficult.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle finds returning hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) pitted against an immensely powerful and ruthless drug cartel called The Golden Circle. Kingpin Penny (Julianne Moore) strikes fast, destroying every Kingsman safehouse, forcing our heroes to seek the help of their American cousins, the Statesman. Pulling no punches, the Golden Circle gets right down to business. Loud music, an intrepid car chase, explosions, and submarine cars, all in the first fifteen minutes, and in an instant you can tell The Golden Circle is aiming high.

Perhaps the best thing going for this film is its length. At 141 minutes, Golden Circle gives itself the time it needs to reconnect dots, scatter a new set of dots, and plot its way to each of them. There is a lot of information that needs to be presented in a good spy film, and every good sequel takes its time reacquainting you with its suave saviors. Director and Writer Matthew Vaughn navigates this tricky series of expository events surprisingly well. Vaughn and Co-Writer Jane Goldman did their best to top the first Kingsman and on most fronts they found some genuine success. The action is well paced and laced with the fast cuts and rotating cameras familiar from the first movie, the returning cast feels confident, and their scenes together are tight, and the development of those returning characters is accomplished with some surprisingly emotional results. The fact that Golden Circle has the real estate to play those things out really alleviates the pace of the film.

Where Golden Circle falls short is in its introduction to newer characters, most notably the Statesmen. There is a lot of potential bringing a new organization into the loop. It opens avenues for story, character, and plot development. But where the Statesmen were essential to the latter, the former two avenues felt underutilized. Veteran actor Jeff Bridges leads the Statesmen, with Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, and Halle Berry (codenamed Champagne, Tequila, Whiskey, and Ginger Ale respectively) under his command.

There is a lot of talent there. A lot. However, instead of fully integrating the team with the Kingsman, the cooperative bond they form bears more semblance to a teenager forced to bring their much younger sibling to the mall with them. This isn’t completely unexpected, there are always rough patches in a new partnership. Halle Berry is the star of the Statesmen. The scenes with Ginger Ale and Merlin (Mark Strong) are playful and informative. But Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are criminally underused and it puts a burden on Pedro Pascal that is a little fumbled by how his character is written.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a solid sequel that fans will appreciate. The film does have shortcomings, but rather than detract from my enjoyment of the film, I found them seeding my brain with anticipation for the recently announced third installment. James Bond and Jason Bourne beware, Eggsy and the Kingsman appear to be here to stay, and they’re bringing a fresh taste to the spy game. | Caleb Sawyer

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