I really like this film which is fun, irreverent and at times over the top but I wish it had just been a bit shorter and slightly less scattershot. It begins in terrific fashion with a sequence based around a taxi that is as thrilling as anything in a Bond movie. It would be enough for the climax of a film yet is only the beginning setting the tone for what is a whirlwind of action, gadgets, kinetic peril and mayhem.
An indeterminate amount of time has passed since the events of the first film and our hero Eggsy is now in the role of Galahad looking sharp and possessing more mad skills than James Bond. He’s living with a princess too albeit in a normal house. Then the bottom drops out of his world when Kingsman is all but wiped out in a series of attacks and only he and tech support wizard Merlin are left. They end up in the US where they encounter Statesman the Yank equivalent of Kingsman. In place of elegant tailoring the American organisation is hidden in a whiskey brewery which neatly sums up both countries I’d say! After a false start the two strands begin to work together while also trying to restore the memory of Eggy’s former mentor Harry (the previous Galahad).
Hold on- wasn’t Harry shot in the head in the first film? Well yes he was but in a plot contrivance that’ll either make you grin wryly or roll your eyes he is back albeit with memory loss. You know what though this is not even the most credulity stretching moment in the movie so just go with it because it leads to some of the script’s best character beats as both Merlin and Eggsy try their best to jog Harry’s memory. The way in which it is finally done is rather sweet. In fact the film is peppered with these sympathetic sort of moments which lift if above being simply a spy –action- spoof thing. They also make us more likely to accept the more outre bits of Jane Goldman and Mathew Vaughn’s cheeky script.
They – and Taron Egerton- certainly make Eggsy a more rounded character this time. His council flat roots still show but the actor makes an equally great job of his superspy moments plus he has a comedic flair. Mark Strong too is impressively resolute in a role that goes beyond exposition while Colin Firth sells Harry’s return strongly.
I didn’t find the American characters quite as engaging though Stateside audiences may disagree. Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey and Channing Tatum’s Tequila could have really been merged as one character also removing an unnecessary extra final confrontation especially as the latter spends most of the film cryogenically frozen. Halle Berry pops up as Statesman’s tech but neither she nor Jeff Bridges’ Champagne get given much to do.
This film’s antagonist Poppy Adams- played with relish by Julianne Moore is much more fun in some of the film’s most comic brutality. The character’s lair is a 1950s style diner and high street reproduced in a jungle in Cambodia. Oddly she is obsessed with 1970s music so you have the bizarre mash up of 50s chic and 70s music.
Inevitably in a film that really has too many ideas not all of them work. A running gag surrounding a captive Elton John (played by Elt himself) doesn’t really work and seems aimed squarely at viewers of a certain age. There are also just too many locations- an unlikely sojourn to Glastonbury Festival could definitely have been excised – and the second half of the film gets into a pattern of chasing clues around the world. Poppy’s plan is just a step too far to be believed- not so much that she would do it but the awkwardly scripted way they use to get out of it in the end. I’d be interested to know too what American audiences make of this take on Presidential attitudes. Even in the Trump era the POTAS’ behaviour here seems unlikely.
Of course there are plenty of things to like about the film too. It does have a stunning momentum. The action sequences regularly defy both logic and gravity but they are so thrilling you get swept along with them. And the characters carried over from the first film are well developed and perfectly played. At times The Golden Circle feels like a third film in a series whose second I somehow missed. I’d still love to see a third movie though if only because they still haven’t explained why the main character is called Eggsy!!