By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” like its 2014 predecessor “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” is an enjoyably inventive next-generation spoof of mid-period 007 flicks that actually outdoes some of those disco-era James Bond escapades when it comes to huge set pieces, over-the-top action and gags that actually are funny. It’s also slightly better than the first “Kingsman,” if only because it doesn’t have to spend any time setting things up.
But at 141 minutes, this tongue-in-cheek romp may actually be too much of a good thing. Just as manners maketh man, less can be more…even if there certainly are worse problems a movie can have.
Likeable Taron Egerton is back as Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a former lower-class layabout who was “My Fair Lady”-ed into a bespoke-tailored secret agent by the urbanely proper Harry Hart (Colin Firth) of the undercover Kingsman organization. Eggsy has assumed Hart’s Galahad codename following Hart’s apparent demise in the last movie, and the method in which his missing mentor rejoins the living is one of this movie’s sillier pleasures.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the second flick this year (after Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver”) with the cocky confidence to start off with a wild car chase that could be the last-act highlight of other action movies. In the backseat of a customized cab that’s taking fire from malevolent motorists, Eggsy fights off rejected Kingsman candidate Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), who is now cybernetically enhanced with a viciously versatile mechanical arm that puts the Winter Soldier’s to shame. The highlight of that perilous pursuit is an overhead shot of Eggsy’s cab doing an extremely extended “London drift” around a long curve, before converting to wheels-sideways amphibian mode and going underwater in Hyde Park. Good evening, Mr. Bond!
When Kingsman security is compromised and nearly the entire English operation is explosively eliminated, Eggsy and tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) head stateside to team up with their American equivalents: Statesman operatives whose cover is a Kentucky distillery. Tobacco-spitting agent Tequila (Channing Tatum) and electric-lasso-wielding Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) take their orders from a spittoon-employing supervisor known as Champagne (Jeff Bridges). Halle Berry, as a wannabe-agent support techie for the undercover organization, only gets to be called Ginger Ale.
Julianne Moore is de rigueur megalomaniacal villain Poppy Adams, a massively successful drug lord who has turned her remote jungle hideout into a retro smalltown “Poppy Land” complete with diner, bowling alley, beauty salon, theater…and a couple of murderous robot dogs, of course. Having tainted her products with a deathly disease affecting millions to which only she has the antidote, she tries blackmailing the United States into legalizing all drugs.
Director Matthew Vaughn, who created the Kingsman franchise with comics writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Gibbons, co-wrote both movies with Jane Goldman. Nearly everything about the first movie that differed from its comics incarnation was a change for the worse (including a completely different beginning and ending). This sequel has the odd advantage of being an original story, however, which prevents any comparisons to an existing work. The result is a fun ride that may go on a half-hour too long, but more because it is crammed full of too many treats, as opposed to padded out with filler.
Vaughn, who also directed the Daniel Craig thriller “Layer Cake,” the fantasy “Stardust,” Millar’s “Kick-Ass” and the superhero reboot “X-Men: First Class,” does a great job of keeping even the most ferociously frantic fight scenes intelligible. He accomplishes this mainly by staying with the precisely choreographed action through long takes that occasionally shift into slow motion to show off particularly impressive moments of impact.
The movie also includes a fittingly Blofeldian alpine installation, a parachute nod to “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and a reluctant seduction scene that turns Bond’s brand of conscience-free licentiousness on its head.
There are plenty of enjoyable references to the first movie, including Harry Hart’s stuffed dog Mr. Pickle, yet another epic bar fight, and rescued Swedish princess Tilde (Hannah Alström), who is now Eggsy’s girlfriend. “If you save the world, you know what that means,” she tells him in their bedroom.
As anyone who gets that reference from the first installment knows, Eggsy is more than inspired to give it his best shot.