The term “sloppy seconds” is rather demeaning and puerile, but I can’t deny its applicability when it comes to Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Filmmaker Matthew Vaughn, who had already shown off his skill for stylish and ballsy comic book fare with Stardust, X-Men: First Class and Kick-Ass, took the whole world by surprise with 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. The only surprise this time around is in how unsurprising it is.

Based partially on Mark Millar’s comic “The Secret Service”, the first Kingsman film was a rowdy and rambunctious R-rated spin on the British spy caper as street kid Eggsy (Taron Egerton) was drafted by the distinguished super spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) into the titular aristocratic espionage organization. Vaughn staged eye-boggling kinetic action beats as he wholly embraced the ridiculousness of the genre usually headlined by a certain shaken-not-turned secret agent. Yes, it was juvenile in places, but it was also fresh and a whole lot of fun.

For The Golden Circle though, Vaughn and returning co-writer Jane Goldman, appeared to have just looked at what drew the biggest whoopin’ and hollerin’ on the first film and then decided to do that again. That wouldn’t be the word cinematic crime ever, but now the jokes are even more frat boy-ish than before. The peak of this is a scene involving Eggsy, a potential female informant and a tracker that has to be planted in the most awkward of places because reasons that is every bit as cringe-worthy as it is completely unnecessary to the plot.

Said plot this time around involves Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) being the only survivors of a devastating attack on the Kingsman by global drug kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore). With nowhere else left to turn, Eggsy and Merlin have to reach out to the Statesman, the Kingsman’s sister organization over in the US of A for some help.

Using a multi-billion dollar Kentucky booze business as their front, Statesman boasts the likes of organization boss Champagne aka “Champ” (Jeff Bridges), hothead Agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), geeky Agent Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) and the laser lasso-wielding Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, pulling off a pretty mean Burt Reynolds impersonation). They get roped – pardon the pun – into helping Eggsy, Merlin and a certain other senior Kingsman whose plot-twist return was given away in every single piece of marketing for this film (See? No surprises) to stop Poppy from executing an insane plan that will leave thousands dead but actually has a ring of cold logic to it.

If that sounds familiar it’s because Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmon Valentine had the same approach to his villainy in the first film. Poppy even has an amputee henchmen with a deadly limb, this time being Eggsy’s old Kingsman academy dropout classmate Charlie (Edward Holcroft), just to line up the similarities even more.

But for all its flagrant repetition and lowbrow attempts at earning its R-rating, I won’t deny that I still had fun. A lot of that boils down to the fact that Vaughn is still a master at staging and filming action sequences. Yes, there’s some dodgy CGI trickery that pulls you out of things on occasion, but the stylish action cinematography is still as in your face and visceral as ever. And with Kingsman wholly embracing the over-the-top panache of the genre, even silly things like robot attack dogs and briefcase rocket launchers work gangbusters for some thrilling popcorn entertainment.

Another definite attraction is the film’s cast (the screen time allocation of which may actually be different to what you expect thanks to some misleading marketing), who all turn in very game performances. Egerton, in particular, really is a star in the making, handling both the physicality and charm of the role with flair. The return of Swedish Princess Tilde (Hannah Alström) – from that infamous scene in the first film – as his serious girlfriend this time around also gives him the space to flex some of those romantic chops. Meanwhile his almost paternal relationship with that other Returned-From-The-Dead-Agent-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named (his real name rhymes with Pollen Girth) remains the loudly beating heart of the entire endeavor.

Julianne Moore’s scarily chipper Poppy is also a treat – obsessed with the wholesome Americana of the 1960s she’s built an anachronistic villain’s lair in the heart of the South American jungle complete with a burger and shake shop, bowling alley, old-timey cinema and more. She also has a particular captive, playing himself in the movie, who steals a number of scenes easily.

These and other little touches help to raise Kingsman: The Golden Circle up from the muck its script sometimes forces it wallow in. It’s a real pity though that it was even so low to begin with, as there’s proper fun to be had here – and even some intriguing moral debates that are brushed over far too lightly – it’s just held back a bit by some clumsy and lazy ideas. Vaughn has stated that he already knows where he would take the franchise for a third possible film, and a closing shot in this this film hints at a promising possibility. If we get that trilogy though, then much like Eggsy himself has done, it can keep its street smarts and roughhouse ways, but the Kingsman franchise needs to grow up just a tad.

Last Updated: September 29, 2017

Summary
While Matthew Vaughn is still a master at fun action beats and the cast all offer very game performances, an ever-present cinematic deja vu and insistence on doubling down on the first film's more juvenile aspects leaves us with a sequel that may still be entertaining in places but is undoubtedly inferior.
6.5
/10

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