Matthew Vaughn is one of the most confident and defined English filmmakers of the modern era. After his directorial debut Layer Cake (the film that led to Daniel Craig becoming James Bond) earnt him a BAFTA nomination he has consistently made movies which combine great action sequences with close-to-the-line humour. So often he has provided more than this formula – Kick Ass was a subversive take on the superhero genre, X-Men: First Class featured superb characterisation whilst Kingsman: The Secret Service was a revelation – combining a unique style with the substance of an engaging plot and classist undertones. Whilst Kingsman: The Golden Circle retains all the style of the original it fails to add anything of substance to the tried and tested Matthew Vaughn formula. That isn’t to say it is not one of the most enjoyable romps of the year but simply that it is an altogether hollower experience than its predecessor leaving fans stirred but not shaken.
This movie falls into a lot of the classic sequel tropes; it is bigger but not better with several of its A-list cast additions given precious little screen time. Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry stay firmly behind their desks as the film’s action takes place whilst Channing Tatum sits out the main body of the film entirely with his role feeling more like a teaser for the inevitable third film than a meaningful contribution to the matter in hand. These misfires fade into insignificance when compared to the film’s biggest problem – the survival of a now eye-patch wearing Harry Hart (Colin Firth) who was shot in the head in The Secret Service. This nonsensical decision detracts from the emotional stakes of the franchise and leaves the audience feeling more than a little cheated. If Hart really had to survive then a witty and self-aware comment by the character about box-office numbers would have been far more satisfactory than a rehash of the worst element of MIB 2. The film wastes far too much time on Hart recovering his memory and fighting ability and whilst Firth goes someway to redeeming this with typically excellent acting in action and emotional scenes towards the end of the movie, his very presence never ceases to be unnecessary.
All these negatives may make this sound like a bad movie – when in fact it is a rather good one. Taron Egerton is once again fantastic as ‘Eggsy’, a protagonist who only becomes more likeable second time around thanks to a surprisingly well-written romantic sublot with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom.) Whilst the original’s epic church scene is never topped there are multiple fantastic action sequences, not least the gripping opening scene where Eggsy battles an old foe inside and on top of a taxi. The old foe is rejected Kingsman applicant turned henchman Charlie (Edward Holcroft) whose inclusion makes the fight-scenes between hero and secondary villain feel deeply personal culminating in a perfectly shot and utterly thrilling final showdown. It’s brilliant to see Egerton doing many of his own stunts and the twenty-seven-year-old undoubtedly has the potential to become one of Hollywood’s biggest and most talented stars. Mark Strong’s Merlin is given a lot more to do this time around and the underrated actor gives yet another sterling performance, as does Narcos’ Pedro Pascal. Julianne Moore gives a wonderfully over-the-top performance as our villain even if she is short-changed in terms of motivation and screen-time. Incredibly, it is an extended cameo by Elton John which almost steals the show as the singer gives a ridiculously enjoyable performance that provides some of the film’s funniest moments.
“leaves the audience feeling more than a little cheated”
As ever Vaughn and long-time screenwriting collaborator Jane Goldman have crafted a very amusing script with several witty throwbacks to the original. Much of our enjoyment from The Golden Circle comes from how invested we already are in these characters and many scenes in the movie – be they action, dramatic or comedic – successfully build on or mock moments from the first film. However, this sequel is of course subject to the law of diminishing returns and the lofty standards set by its predecessor force us to see the flaws in this undoubtedly entertaining flick, even if it is one of the better sequels in recent years. Brilliant action sequences? Check. Great performances and humour? Check. A convincing plot or a substantial meaning? This ain’t that kind of movie, bruv.