Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

A proper spy movie.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) was one of those left-field knock-your-socks-off hits that took the world by surprise. Based on the comic series The Secret Service written by Scottish punk Mark Millar, Kingsman was a wildly subversive trip, mixing class and style with cartoonish, gory action, the flick simultaneously working as a coming-of-age journey of an English brat named Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton). In short, it was a breath of fresh air in the well-worn spy genre. Following it up was always going to be a difficult task, especially after the beloved character of mentor Harry ‘Galahad’ Hart (Colin Firth) was shot in the head, the scene capping off one of the film’s most celebrated sequences — a relentless massacre in a Church set to the epic guitar solo of ‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Has English co-writer-director Matthew Vaughn done it again?

The new adventure gets off to a rip-snorting start, with Eggsy being relentlessly pursued by a gang of mercenaries, including Charlie (Edward Holcroft), an embittered Kingsman trainee, whose robotic arm manages to sneakily hack into the Kingsman’s secret service mainframe. When he’s not fighting off bad guys, however, Eggsy is dealing with relationship problems, mainly trying to make a strong impression on the parents of his girlfriend, Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström). Alas, while having dinner with his beloved and her folks, the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, the full British cohort wiped out, save for behind-the-scenes agent Merlin (Mark Strong).

Kinda one of those save-the-world-type situations.

It turns out that Charlie had delivered the Kingsman’s whereabouts to Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the world’s most successful drug lord and head of a clandestine group known as The Golden Circle, the sinister all-American sweetheart tired of hiding in her retro lair dubbed ‘Poppyland’, despite her financial success. But with the English spies seemingly eliminated for good, Poppy sets about a plan to control the world by forcing the U.S. government to legally distribute her drugs via a deadly toxin.

Now, down to only two members, Eggsy and Merlin turn to their equally secretive American counterpart for help — The Statesman (a bunch of cowboy spies with a penchant for Bourbon whiskey as opposed to tailored suits) led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and his team comprising of agents Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Jack Daniels (Pedro Pascal), along with their tech-wiz Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). More surprising than the very existence of the Statesman is their subdued guest, Harry, who was presumed dead, but is somehow still alive, having lapsed back to his old ways prior to joining the secret service. Although shattered by this discovery, the remaining Kingsman team up with the Statesman to hunt down the criminal mastermind, who’s killed their allies and poisoned thousands in a quest for global domination.

Meet the Snowsman

As a long-time fan of Matthew Vaughn and his knack for wild action, I couldn’t help but grin in the opening moments of The Golden Circle, because, heck, it was great to be back in the world of Kingsman. In a bold choice to effectively reset the titular secret service (cutting it down to just three characters) Vaughn and regular co-writer Jane Goldman allow more time to play around with the saga’s new characters, the Statesman (each named after a type of liquor) and their Wild West ways, for instance Jack Daniels and his electric lasso — though Channing Tatum fans may have to wait till the next episode to really see him in action. While nothing matches the insanity of the aforementioned Baptist Church bloodbath, the closest we get in this sequel is a rip-roaring takedown climax set to Sir Elton John’s ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting),’ with the pop star himself featured in an extended cameo throughout the film.

I was wondering how Vaughn and Goldman could develop (or even match) a villain as memorable as Samuel L. Jackson’s lisp-heavy, queasy, over-grown wiz-kid Valentine, and in this regard, I feel they’ve delivered with Julianne Moore’s Poppy. Playing up Moore’s natural charm, Poppy is all ‘sweet, sugar and 50’s pop’ on the surface, her entire hideout (which is tucked away in a Cambodian jungle) being an ode to diner days; but in intention, this Martha Stewart-type villainess is very much off-the-rails crazy and destructive. Her insanity is made quite apparent from her sinister introduction as Poppy interviews a potential recruit while eyeing a mean-looking mincer, this by far one of the film’s darkest, goriest moments. If there’s one disappointment here, it’s that, after all her scheming and blasé acts of violence, it didn’t feel as though Poppy got her just desserts — it’s a flatline climax instead of a satisfying shock or bang.

Come back to us, Lancelot!

Pedro Pascal gets his groove back after a lackluster performance in The Great Wall (2016), this time playing the smirky Jack Daniels, complete with boot scootin’ moves and banter, Taron Egerton is still very likeable as Eggsy whereas Mark Strong really makes the most of his second go-around as Merlin, the bald-headed Brit almost stealing the film with an explosive rendition of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ — funnily enough, the second time in a few months a Channing Tatum movie has featured this song, the other being Logan Lucky (2017).

I’m sorry to say that the far-fetched resurrection of Colin Firth’s Harry — which, when explained, seems like it’s taken straight out of Adam West Batman convenience — doesn’t really feel worth it, considering how bored Firth looks this time around. Harry appears, Eggsy rejoices and so too, fans of original Galahad, but Firth seems soulless, as if he’s genuinely regressed to his acting life prior to Kingsman: The Secret Service. Lighten up, dude, you’re a badass secret agent! On that note, it’s both frustrating and disheartening to see characters that audiences really connected with, such as Eggsy’s fetching right-hand gal Roxy Morton/ Agent Lancelot, played by Sophie Cookson, pushed aside so that big name actors can fill the now empty Oxford shoes — think Halle Berry and Channing Tatum, both of whom are much more bankable than the lesser known Cookson. You win some, you lose some.

Tequila with Ginger

On the technical front, things are as beautifully glossy as ever, with cinematographer George Richmond, Eddie the Eagle (2016), doing bright justice to the inviting production design of Darren Gilford, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and of course, the incredibly suave costumes by Arianne Phillips, Nocturnal Animals (2016). After watching our heroes get finely suited up, you’ll want to get tailored up, too! The cherry on top is the killer sound design by Rob Prynne, X-Men: First Class (2011), which needless to say, is a blast.

With plenty of connections to the original, fun characters, ferocious action and a surprisingly thoughtful political commentary on the never-ending ‘war on drugs,’ Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a real crowd-pleaser for fans wanting more. With a third film already in development, it looks like the Kingsman are well and truly back in business. Matthew Vaughn, thank you, once again, for a solid ride.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is released through 20th Century Fox Australia