Before we tackle the sequel, let’s look back to the original. Was Kingsman: The Secret Service really that good? Sometimes movies that are absurdly over-the-top are beloved simply for how much they commit to the meta winking, overtly or not. I submit to you that the first Kingsman, as fun as it was, wasn’t very good at all. It was an interesting idea taken to an incredible extreme and powered by testosterone-pumping explosions and CGI camerawork. It was Transformers in a tailored suit.
Regardless of the acceptable level of fun in the first Transformers, it begat sequels lacking even the original’s very basic brains, dribbling out follows-ups with idiotic subtitles like Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, Age of Extinction, and The Last Knight. The first wasn’t great, but it sure seems so when stacked against its descendants.
Which brings us to Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Rather than leaving the first Kingsman be, the sequel is here, adding an American twang to the original’s cockney. It’s really no more unnecessary than a Bond sequel, but at least it took the Bond sequels almost two decades to truly make a stinker. The Kingsman franchise achieved it on the first try.
Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a.k.a Galahad, has been working with fellow Kingsman Roxy/Lancelot (Sophie Cookson), a new Arthur (Michael Gambon), and stalwart Q clone Merlin (Mark Strong) at the rebuilt Kingsman, after most of the organization (including mentor figure Colin Firth) were killed in the first movie. When a failed recruit from Roxy and Eggsy’s training period (Edward Holcroft) shows up and tries to kill Eggsy, our hero barely makes it out alive, thanks to the help of Merlin. All the other Kingsmen, and every base of operations, have been wiped out.
Drinking away their troubles with a bottle of Statesman whisky, Eggsy and Merlin find a clue that leads them to their American cousin organization, led by boss Champagne (Jeff Bridges), agents Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Jack Daniels (Pedro Pascal), and stalwart Q clone Ginger Ale (Halle Berry).
The odd couple of secret agent organizations have to team up to put a stop to the megalomaniacal Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the queen of the global drug trade, whose world domination plot involves poisoning all her users and then holding the President of the United States hostage over it. (What do you mean that makes no sense? Stop thinking about it, you’re wasting everyone’s time.)
Barely a single thing about The Golden Circle makes any sense whatsoever. Every minute or two, something moronic or preposterous happens, just keeping you from focusing too long on the last moronic or preposterous thing to happen. The whole movie is a series of barely intelligible scenes hoping to make up for their content in manic speed and bullet-time camerawork out of the Matrix handbook. (Speaking of The Matrix… For the life of me, I don’t know how The Golden Circle‘s CGI can sometimes be as bad as The Matrix Reloaded’s; the opening car chase is marred by incredibly obvious and primitive CGI versions of Egerton and Mycroft wrestling around in the back of a car.)
The super-fast-and-then-suddenly-super-slo-mo direction and camerawork of the original felt a little clever, in a Guy-Ritchie-taking-on-Men-in-Black way. Now, it just feels dated. The Golden Circle, with Poppy’s lair located on a secret island, feels more like Guy-Ritchie-taking-on-Uncharted — and the result is not good.
Director Matthew Vaughn can’t decide whether he wants to be the next Michael Bay or the next Zack Snyder. Most depressingly, he’s managed here to capture the worst qualities of both. There are even robotic attack dogs to follow Poppy around that look like rejects from a Transformers brainstorming session.
Bay’s Transformers movies (and Snyder’s DC Extended Universe movies, for that matter) make sure to always have at least one Oscar winner in their casts, but Kingsman isn’t willing to settle for such a low number. Disappointingly, no fewer than five Academy Award recipients (and a couple more nominees) have been roped into The Golden Circle. No one comes out clean — least of all Elton John, who seems to have been cast as himself for no other Earthly reason beyond the belief it’s funny to see how many times the septuagenarian Brit can yell the F-word, in an Oh-My-Stars-I-Can’t-Believe-Sir-Elton-John-Just-Said-That manner. (For those curious, it’s 14. Fourteen separate times that he trots out the same joke. I was truly so bored that I counted.)
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a feature-length video game cutscene, with above average actors who should really know better. But… it’s just… so… bad. I think I actually felt my brain dying just a little as I suffered through it.
Liking Kingsman: The Secret Service isn’t an accurate indication of whether you’ll like this vapid sequel. A more apt barometer would be a Transformers sequel. If you can’t still decide which was more awesome, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Transformers: Dark of the Moon… boy, have I got a movie for you.