Kingsman: The Secret Service was 2015’s surprise crowd-pleaser. What at first just looked like it would be your typical action fare turned out to be an impressive mix of action, affection, and amusement. That meant its follow-up, The Golden Circle (out September 22), had some big Oxfords to fill. Director Matthew Vaughn didn’t take too many risks with his sequel, which I found to be a very smart choice.
Our newly inducted Kingsman, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), is now comfortably in place among the rest of the agents. He rocks at his job, makes time for his old friends, and is even in a serious relationship with Princess Tilde, whom he saved in the first film. He seems to have it all. But, just as expected (and as shown in the trailers), the entirety of the Kingsman organization is wiped out after an altercation with an old adversary. The first fight sets the major tone of the film, using “Let’s Go Crazy” by Minnesota’s own Prince as the musical backdrop. And that tone is excitement!
After the loss of their entire operation, Eggsy and Merlin (played fantastically by Mark Strong) head for America to get help from the their spy cousins, of sorts. Jeff Bridges heads up their operation as Champagne—just as the Kingsmen have code names based on the legend of King Arthur, Statesmen are named after different types of alcohol, a suitable fit. The American counterpart to Eggsy would seemingly be Tequila (Channing Tatum), who’s the resident suave bad boy within Statesman and, if all the trailers and promotional materials were to be believed, a major component of the film. But . . . he’s really not. Tatum has just a handful of scenes, which is a real disappointment for us all. We are, however, graced with the presence of Halle Berry and former Game of Thrones smushface Pedro Pascal.
The big baddie for the film is none other than superactress Julianne Moore, who plays Poppy, the most chipper and diabolical villain ever. (This is established right from the start, by the way, so it’s not much of a spoiler.) Her evil lair is outfitted with some spectacular set pieces meant to look like ’50s America—except stocked with henchmen, landmines, and robots. That’s right, super scary-slash-adorable robots. Poppy is the kind of rich friend you’d love to have if only she weren’t into genocide, drug distribution, and light cannibalism. Among her plots, she has kidnapped a prominent musician to entertain her when she needs cheering up. I won’t say who it is for those who haven’t already heard about it, but I will say the sun never goes down on his performance (almost quite literally, as he has more screen time than Tatum). While the pop star’s scenes are all funny, there is a law of diminishing returns the director should look into.
The biggest concern within The Golden Circle is that the movie is still mostly a boys’ club—as the trailers revealed, even shot-in-the-face Colin Firth, who has to be in your top three Colins, is back. The only female Kingsman is blown to pieces, and the single female Statesman member is their analyst. There are zero action scenes with women, which is a real tragedy. The film certainly doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, let alone any higher bar. Filmmakers have already proven women can kick as much ass as dudes; we just need more of it from big studio flicks. I certainly hope this changes for Kingsman 3, which has already been greenlit.
That said, both Kingsman films to date, and this one in particular, are what the James Bond movies have really been missing over the last decade. Even though they all must save the world, the approach is fun, sleek, and smart, with a bit of intrigue thrown in. The Americanized gadgets—like the electric lasso, baseball grenades, and minesweeping bats—are fun and functional. The set pieces are crisp and beautiful, meticulously designed with amazing detail. Vaughn’s use of limited slo-mo during the action scenes allows the audience to take in every part of the fight without overwhelming them with blurry punches and whip-around camera shots. Pair all this with an amazing soundtrack and you’ve got just a really fun moviegoing experience. If you enjoyed the first Kingsman, this will certainly be your cup of tea . . . or bourbon.