KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE * 1 / 2
Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore and Sir Elton John. Screenplay by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn. Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
I’ll probably catch hell from my friends with more evolved sensibilities for admitting I had a blast at 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. Based on a comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the genuinely rotten 007 sendup starred young Taron Egerton as a street yob tutored in the debonair sophistication of an underground Saville Row CIA by Colin Firth’s breezy sociopath. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, who helmed the similarly sneering Kick-Ass, the film exhibited a fuck-it-all crassness I found bracing and rather delightful. It’s the movie Deadpool kept patting itself on the back for pretending to be.
Highlights included Firth’s freewheeling slaughter of an entire Westboro Baptist Church-ish congregation, a slyly amusing supervillain turn by Samuel L. Jackson and a gonzo finale in which the skulls of countless innocents blew up like a splattery fireworks display. (One of those exploding heads belonged to the 44th President of the United States, but notice you didn’t see any of us getting all worked up like those illiterates who spent the summer screaming at Shakespeare plays.) I even enjoyed the movie’s controversial closing anal sex joke, which remains the source of much online pearl-clutching but worked for me as a vulgar explication of traditional hero and princess rescue tropes. (Also, butt-fucking is funny.)
The first Kingsman had the reckless, nasty spirit of a movie nobody involved expected anyone would ever watch. Its out-of-nowhere $128 million gross made Kingsman: The Golden Circle both an inevitability and also a huge drag. This is a cautious work of corporate bet-hedging and product integration. And since it’s not a great idea to offend people while you’re trying to sell them shit, the movie is shockingly toothless, at times even maudlin. Overpopulated and overplotted, inflated to an absurd 141-minute running time, it’s just another cruddy franchise picture.
We begin with the entire agency (and most of the first film’s supporting cast) being wiped out by missile attacks from Julianne Moore’s nasty narcotics kingpin. From her fortified mock-up of a 1950’s suburban town square located somewhere in the middle of a Cambodian jungle, she’s been busy poisoning the world’s supply of recreational drugs and plans to offer an antidote in exchange for global legalization, thinking this will skyrocket her cartel to the top of the Fortune 500. There’s some fine grist for satire in her scheme, but the movie steers away from anything interesting like that and instead focuses on the dreary personal relationships of our protagonist.
Apparently we’re now supposed to care about Egerton’s Eggsy and his romance with that Swedish princess who let him put it in her bum. Since he and Mark Strong’s Merlin are the only surviving Kingsmen, they require assistance from the agency’s Yank counterpart, Statesmen – who all wear silly cowboy outfits and drink a branded whiskey that just so happens to be available at a liquor store near you. (So basically the movie’s an ad.) You can pass the time by trying to guess how few days the name American actors were on set, and laugh when above-the-title billed co-star Channing Tatum is literally put on ice for the entire running time.
It’s all just draggy and shockingly unfunny. Firth’s character is brought back from the dead for reasons that make no sense because nothing matters in Kingsman: The Golden Circle besides getting a clear shot of the shaving accessories and other crap they want you to buy. Sir Elton John even appears as himself, gamely playing the damsel in distress held captive for Moore’s personal entertainment. Yet when it comes time to put Captain Fantastic’s spin on the first film’s rear-entry reward joke, the most this movie can muster is an undersold innuendo about backstage passes. Depressingly lame.