Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal
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Uproarious, rude and resplendent with the red stuff, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a comedy action blockbuster that had fun with its knowingly silly premise, pushing boundaries of taste (rather than art) with a cheeky, laddish grin. Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the inevitable second outing, suffers from a severe case of Kick-Ass.
That both franchises hail from Mark Millar comic books points to the common problem between them: not a shortcoming on the part of Matthew Vaughn, who directed each series (but avoided helming Kick-Ass 2), or even of Millar’s source material, but of the difficulty in repeating the same trick: Kingsman was no Kick-Ass, with its outdated final gag giving away its more conventional roots than the comic book satire, but there was entertainment value in its novel, graphic set pieces – the sight of Colin Firth’s secret agent, Harry, beating up a church full of people immediately booked its own shocking page in the history books. Kingsman 2, though, reminds us of the simple truth that you can’t be novel twice.
And so the sequel does what convention says all sequels should: it goes bigger. In the case of this outlandish universe, that means things get absurdly oversized, and it’s here that whole house of cards threatens to fall down. Harry, first of all, is brought back from the dead with a gadget that apparently cures him of being shot through the head – a starting point for the story that not only relies on the cliched plot device of amnesia, but also removes any sense of stakes or character progression. Then, he’s surrounded by characters that are all so cartoonish they become one forgettable blur, and each cameo (Channing Tatum! Jeff Bridges! Julianne Moore!) so brief that nobody gets a chance to leave a lasting impression. Moore’s ostensible villain (a drug dealer seeking world domination) is obsessed with the 1950s, because of reasons, while Tatum’s US agent, Tequila, is essentially put on ice for the runtime, because of other, equally unexplained reasons.
Vaughn is still more than capable of cooking up some impressive sequences, starting right out of the gate with an inventive taxi cab punch-up. You can tell he’s having fun playing with an electrocuting whip and a Bond-esque stunt involving cable cars, but Jane Goldman’s script keeps inserting more eccentric oddballs between each burst of action without much apparent logic. The result is a bloated blockbuster that loses the original’s vital sense of kinetic energy, and, in turn, saps the movie of the laughter required to keep the slower bits going.
The central cast, fortunately, are still enthusiastically game, with Narcos’ Pablo Pascal relishing a welcome chance to strut his stuff in a central role, Mark Strong’s weapons man Merlin delivering quippy dialogue with likeable deadpan, and Taron Egerton’s street-kid-turned-suave-spy Eggsy still charismatic to a fault. It’s a shame, then, that Egerton has to spend a sizeable chunk of the film’s runtime trying to put a device in a private place on a woman at a musical festival – a subplot that feels less subversive and more just crassly misjudged, given Eggsy’s kind-hearted roots. Even Elton John (playing himself) ends up with a better character arc than that. With reduced screentime for our leads, especially for Firth’s Harry, you long for the more concise, character interactions of Kingsman No. 1., which helped anchor all the nonsense. Instead, we get robot dogs, unleashed like a pack of uneven ideas allowed to run wild, leaving you less amazed by the audacity of what’s going on and more wishing for some restraint.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.
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