Kingsman: The Golden Circle (15)
Running time 2hr 21mins
OF late, Londoner Matthew Vaughn appears to have robbed Guy Ritchie of his directorial mojo in keeping the flame of an unmistakably British laddishness alive amid the bright lights of Hollywood. While the ultraviolent cheek of Kick-Ass most certainly set it apart from the rest of the bland superhero field (that is, until Deadpool got a word in edgeways), its indomitable charisma has since ensured it a cult following on streaming platforms. Kingsman: The Secret Service, while never
reaching its predecessor’s heights, also had a nice conceit underpinning it, taking the hackneyed tropes that have haunted ‘serious’ spy cinema for the past few decades (gals, gadgets and gizmos, anyone?) and piling them into a project that was half-spoof, half-comic-book saga and all-round shameless popcorn fodder. Though crass and top-heavy, the film was at its best when toying with that cavalier premise – for a moment, audiences found themselves back in the golden age of Bond and Solo, a cinematic cheese dream packed with dangerous skydiving and comically nefarious villains.
Firstly, if the action itself was the Martini-on-your-rocks (or should that be tea-for-your-cup?), this sequel, arriving three years later, is very unlikely to disappoint. Blockbuster sequels tend to fall short in either forgetting the charm of their forerunners or by doing as little as possible to expand the brand’s horizons – the marketing monkeys are, in other words, selling you a repackaged version of the same product. Remarkably, Kingsman: The Golden Circle does BOTH, but this critic is loath to predict a box office catastrophe, or even that it will do much at all to alienate fans of the first film. There’s double the gadgets, triple the carnage and a festering vein of casual sexism that is, if anything, even more pronounced than in Part Un; but this all feels a lot more like a cheap, one-trick spectacle than it once did, either because other, better films have taken Vaughn’s aesthetic in more interesting directions, or – more likely – because the men’s mag puerility of The Secret Service wasn’t begging for a franchise treatment in the first place. Or, perhaps, both.
What’s new in the world of secret agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton, still giving it his all where everyone else has lost faith in this drivel)? An international drug dealer (Julianne Moore) has hatched a bonkers plan to blackmail the world and line her pockets, and it’s up to the old crew to derail her schemes. So far, so samey – but, to confuse matters further, the sequel’s innovative stabs are actually its weak points. The Kingsmen, outclassed from the get-go, are forced to enlist the aid of the ‘Statesmen’, their Yankee cousins. This allows the mobilisation of star power (Halle Berry, Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges feature prominently as agents), but all, without exception, look terribly bored. Even Elton John, who surfaces in a bizarre cameo, doesn’t seem to be in on the joke – while the idea of the legendary singer-songwriter taken hostage by an Americana-obsessed narcotics honcho is blackly funny on paper, the actual gag sets the tone for the rest of the movie in its sloppy, dissonant execution.
Anyway, the claret flows freely, the signature ‘wit’ is legion and the sex more gratuitous than ever, Vaughn keen to demonstrate once again the icky gender politics he’s somehow allowed to pass off as a ‘self-ironic’ niche (including some profoundly rotten shenanigans with Poppy Delevingne). But The Golden Circle is no national treasure, very loud, very crude, quite bland and far too muddled for its own good.