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Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) movie poster Kingsman: The Golden Circle

US Theatrical Release: September 22, 2017 / Running Time: 141 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Matthew Vaughn / Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn (screenplay); Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons (comic book The Secret Service)

Cast: Colin Firth (Harry Hart/Former Agent Galahad), Julianne Moore (Poppy), Taron Egerton (Gary "Eggsy" Unwin/Agent Galahad), Mark Strong (Merlin), Halle Berry (Ginger Ale), Channing Tatum (Agent Tequila), Jeff Bridges (Agent Champagne), Pedro Pascal (Agent Whiskey), Edward Holcroft (Charlie Hesketh), Sophie Cookson (Roxy/Agent Lancelot), Elton John (Elton John), Michael Gambon (Arthur), Bruce Greenwood (President of the United States), Emily Watson (Chief of Staff Fox), Hanna Alström (Princess Tilde), Poppy Delevingne (Clara Von Gluckfberg), Tom Benedict Knight (Angel), Björn Granath (The King of Sweden), Lena Endre (The Queen of Sweden), Mark Arnold (General McCoy), Calvin Demba (Brandon), Thomas Turgoose (Liam), Tobi Bakare (Jamal)


Released to North America in February 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service could very easily have been one of those movies where on-paper hype and promise didn't pan out even with good reviews and strong word of mouth. That wouldn't have been the first time that UK writer-director Matthew Vaughn had experienced that. In fact, that's exactly what happened the previous time
Vaughn and his co-writer Jane Goldman adapted a comic book by Mark Millar: 2010's Kick-Ass opened to buzz, favorable reviews, and disappointing ticket sales. Kingsman had a more distinguished cast, slightly better reviews, and greater general audience appeal. It wound up doing good business here and even better business elsewhere.

So unlike Kick-Ass 2, which proceeded with caution, measured hopes, and an even smaller budget, Kingsman: The Golden Circle arrives with enthusiasm, expectations of a fall hit, and some exciting new cast members. The sequel opens with Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the original film's young protagonist, a full agent of the secret service which regularly saves the world with dazzling fighting skills and high-tech gadgets, all the while looking great and acting suave in tailored suits. Though it's against the rules, Eggsy, who has assumed his former mentor's code name Galahad, is in a relationship with Tilde (Hanna Alström), the Princess of Sweden. Their life is not without excitement, like him showing up for their date covered in sewer water.

But of course, The Golden Circle is not going to be about the secret agent and the princess' romance. Instead, Eggsy is one of just two Kingsman agents to survive a calculated attack on the organization. He and Merlin (Mark Strong), his trainer and only an occasional field agent, mourn the loss of their brethren with a vaulted bottle of whiskey that brings them to Kentucky, where they find a kindred covert American agency called the Statesman. Whereas the Kingsman's cover is a tailor business, the Statesman is a distillery. The Brits are eyed with suspicion by an Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), but ultimately accepted and embraced by the southern folks who are headed by Champagne (an underused but aptly cast Jeff Bridges).

Kingsman agents Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Harry Hart (Colin Firth) team up with Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), a lasso-skilled member of Kentucky's Statesman agency.

Statesman, whose ranks also include a lasso-gifted field agent named Whiskey (Pedro Pascal of "Narcos" and "Game of Thrones") and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), a tech support with field aspirations, joins forces with the surviving duo of Kingsman, who are surprised to learn that the previous Galahad (Colin Firth) isn't as dead as they had previously believed.

Some action movies don't place much importance on story, hoping that set pieces will be enough to keep viewers engaged. But like its predecessor, Golden Circle devotes plenty of time and attention to conflict. Succeeding the lispy, free SIM card-distributing doomsdayer played by Samuel L. Jackson in the original film is Poppy (Julianne Moore), a drug lord who has built her own nostalgic paradise called Poppy Land in a remote jungle location we eventually learn is in Cambodia. Poppy tests her associates in ways that make the Kingsman's arduous screening process look tame.

She yearns for the fame that eludes her for in the drug trade, even though she has succeeded at manufacturing much of the world's supply. Her big plans involve contaminated drugs that will be lethal if not treated with the antidote she alone has. The small roster of Kingsman and Statesman agents aim to get their hands on the antidote after the dim-witted US President (Bruce Greenwood) is ready to negotate with Poppy's legalization plan while really being okay with a good portion of the world's drug-using population being wiped out.

The '50s-flavored Cambodian jungle paradise of drug lord Poppy includes an amphitheatre, a bowling alley, a donut shop, and a burger joint.

The first sequel that Vaughn and Goldman have returned to work on in full (they merely took story credit on X-Men: Days of Future Past and Vaughn was credited as a producer of Kick-Ass 2), The Golden Circle is fun in the same ways as the first movie was, but without feeling like it's just repeating all of the same beats. We do get more of what made Secret Service enjoyable (and I should know, since I saw it for the first time right before heading to the theater): the exciting and long fight scenes set to classic songs, the whole gentlemanly British tradition, and the appealing blend of comedy and action.

This one isn't as nod-winky as the first one, but nor does it have to be. It's fully aware of how over the top it is at times, with Elton John playing a version of himself enslaved to perform for Poppy and her closest confidants, a guy being fed through a meat grinder and turned into a burger, or a finger's three-dimensional journey into a vagina.
Golden Circle is, like its predecessor, extremely violent at times, but in a kind of carefree way that doesn't upset us. Its playful nature and high spirit endear us to the film in ways that more serious action movies do not. There's often value in attaching "/comedy" to any genre, but it's not easy to do, or else it'd be done all the time. Golden Circle does it so right that we hardly notice or mind that it runs well over two hours, something comedies generally do not.

Quality has typically paid off at the box office this year, with most critical hits finding an audience and most critical duds underperforming. Fox is responsible for one of the few movies to buck that trend in War for the Planet of the Apes, which just did not do the business it should have. Some have chalked that up to timing, something that should be on Golden Circle's side as the horror behemoth It looks to cool down some in its third weekend and nothing else huge opens anytime soon. If this is as well received by moviegoers as the first one was, I see no reason why there should or would not be a third entry in this series, hopefully with Vaughn and Goldman returning to do it right.

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Reviewed September 22, 2017.

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