Kingsman: The Golden Circle takes the problems that plagued its predecessor and simply shifts them a foot to the right. It featured a solid first half, establishing the characters and rules of the universe with laidback fun and an attention to details, but 2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service ultimately fell into the routine spy formula that it claimed to be parodying. There was also an off-putting glee with which it carried out some cartoonish and entirely gratuitous violence, and this first sequel, also written by Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn, carries that attitude over.
It also repeats a lot of the story beats from the first one, with one major difference: The opening half does away with every member of the Kingsman tailor shop that is actually an outfit of British intelligence. Only two remain - or so Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) believe - and that leaves them to seek the assistance of their American cousins, the Statesmen, whose headquarters are disguised as a distillery for whiskey and stationed in Kentucky. The Statesman agents have code names that are monikers borrowed from different kinds of liquor, and as it is fashioned by an American ideology, its presence seems a little more visible than the Kingsman presence in England.
Jeff Bridges plays Champagne ("Champ" for short), the commanding officer of the Statesmen, and Halle Berry plays Ginger Ale, Merlin's counterpart as the agent who typically stays on base to inform and offer technical support. Two other agents factor in, as well: Tequila (Channing Tatum) is introduced only to be sidelined almost immediately, and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) barely functions as a turncoat-or-is-he? red herring. The Statesmen have a surprise for their gentlemen guests: Harry (Colin Firth), who apparently died in the previous movie, has been somehow resurrected (The nature of it in the explanation is silly, but that's to be expected) but with retrograde amnesia.
The threat is American, too, in the form of Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a business tycoon who values loyalty above all else, who wishes to legalize all drugs (illicit or harmless) and threatens the slaughter of millions by way of poison-enhanced chemicals in those drugs unless the President of the United States (played by Bruce Greenwood) gives in to those wishes (This leads to a moment involving Eggsy's placement of a tracker within the orifice of a female person of interest for which the film apologizes constantly while it is happening, calling into question why it is), and who has kidnapped Elton John to make him play his greatest hits. Yes, the legendary singer/songwriter appears in this film as himself, although perhaps a better way to refer to him is as Chekhov's Elton John: If you don't anticipate one of his songs scoring the climax, you aren't paying attention at all.
The use of Elton John (and so prominently) is one of the few, truly clever things in the movie, which acknowledges its antagonist's similarities to her immediate predecessor in this franchise through an actual line of dialogue that suggests she was mooching off him and evades the bland uselessness of the character herself by giving her a henchman with a mechanical arm that has a length of chain inside of it and a couple of robotic dogs. The action sequences never really excite, with Vaughn relying on obvious computer effects and twirling camera movements, although that's more of the same from the first film. That sums up Kingsman: The Golden Circle quite nicely, really: It's more of the same.
Taron Egerton (Eggsy), Colin Firth (Harry), Mark Strong (Merlin), Julianne Moore (Poppy), Pedro Pascal (Whiskey), Hanna Alstrom (Tilde), Halle Berry (Ginger Ale), Channing Tatum (Tequila), Jeff Bridges (Champagne), Edward Holcroft (Charlie), Elton John (Himself), Poppy Delevingne (Clara), Bruce Greenwood (The President of the United States), Emily Watson (The Chief of Staff), Sophie Cookson (Roxy), Michael Gambon (Arthur).
Directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, based on the comic book The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.
Rated R (violence, drug content, language throughout, sexual material).
Released on September 22, 2017.