After watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle, one sentence bounced around my head like the repeated refrain in Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”: what’s the point? What’s the point of any of this? What’s the point of destroying the Kingsman (again), of introducing us to the Statesman, of resurrecting Colin Firth? The Golden Circle doesn’t have any answers. All it can do is shrug its shoulders and stumble into another arduously overlong action sequence.
The film opens with one of those sequences, as Kingsman agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) dukes it out with a robo-limbed assassin in a taxi. London taxis and robot arms may sound fun on paper, but on screen it has a weightless, impactless, inconsequential feeling, a feeling shared by all of The Golden Circle‘s overblown setpieces.
The assassin, it turns out, is ex-Kingsman hopeful Charlie (Edward Holcroft), now working for international drug dealer Poppy (Julianne Moore). Poppy is a spectacularly uninteresting villain. She surrounds herself with 1950s Americana and robot dogs, but her motivations are flimsy and we’ve seen the psychotically cheery villain too many times for it to be effective here.
Poppy, with Charlie’s help, guts the Kingsman, and that refrain starts up again (what’s the point, what’s the point, what’s the point). Weren’t the Kingsman neutered in the last one? As the opening gambit of this sequel, it’s bafflingly ineffectual.
As Eggsy would say, whatever. The surviving Kingsman, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong, always a pleasure), seek the help of their American cousins, the Statesman. The first Kingsman had a lot to say about British nobility; how being a gentleman was more about poise and confidence than the status of one’s birth. The Statesmen get no such complexity. Jeff Bridge’s Champagne, Pedro Pascal’s Whiskey, and Channing Tatum’s Tequila are nothing more than stereotypes of American brashness and Southern gentility. The worst casualty is Halle Berry’s tech support Ginger Ale, who has literally nothing to do.
The Golden Circle‘s uneven, superfluous, pointless nature is a result of the film’s near-constant one-upmanship. Director Matthew Vaughn really wants us to know that this is bigger and more inventive than the first. But size and novelty mean nothing if they’re sizeable and novel for size and novelty’s sake. There is nothing here to match that wonderful pub brawl, those rainbow-hued exploding heads; and not a single thing in a single frame in a single scene to match the barbaric joy of that bloody, blistering, Free Birdin’ church massacre. A late game battle fought to that Elton John song comes close, but sadly, no cigar.
Vaughn’s cartoonishly brutal signature style is only truly enjoyable when it is in service of something. More specifically, when it is in service of deconstructing something. Kick-Ass was a cartoonishly brutal deconstruction of the superhero film. The first Kingsman was a cartoonishly brutal deconstruction of the spy genre. The Golden Circle isn’t deconstructing anything. It’s trying to reconstruct the spy genre from the ruins left by its predecessor. But, like an embittered film critic, it can destroy, but it can’t create. In a year (like so many this century) spoilt for choice with sequels, prequels, and requels, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the most disappointing.