Kingsman: The Golden Circle circles back to the start

Craig Watkins, Opinion Editor

Three years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service brought a new, hard-R breath to the super spy series beloved for decades while keeping their classic silliness intact. Its first sequel, The Golden Circle, tests whether Kingsman’s simultaneous shock and sentimentality has staying power.

The Golden Circle follows what remains of the crippled Kingsmen following a doomsday procedure, joining with their American counterparts to find who was responsible for an attack on their agents. This leads them to the Golden Circle: a manufacturer of illegal drugs with plans to legitimatize their business with millions of lives at stake. The standard spy formula follows, including foreign locales, beautiful women, and deadly villains.

While The Golden Circle has a great action story, it gets a little tied up in all of its characters and side stories and feels slightly incomplete despite the lengthy running time. The stories and characters that are fully realized, however, are masterfully done and brought to life by a flawless cast.

Reviving Colin Firth’s Harry Hart does at first seem to trivialize Kingsman’s gravity, but the way his injury affects the rest of the story makes up for it. The relationship between Eggsy and Princess Tilde (Taron Egerton and Hanna Alström), on the other hand, has a lot of build-up for only one unique scene. The Golden Circle’s greatest stride past The Secret Service is Julianne Moore’s Poppy Adams, a 1950’s-obsessed sadist who fits perfectly in the Kingsman universe and is the greatest spy movie villain in years.

The production matches the first movie’s with its stereotype cool-factor but gets expanded to accommodate the American setting. The British Kingsmen (who operate out of a tailor shop) dress in formal wear with gadgets and weapons in the form of watches, umbrellas, and bottles of cologne, while the American Statesmen (who operate out of a whiskey distillery) all look like cowboys with tricked out lassos, revolvers, and of course exploding baseballs. Unfortunately for those sickened by fisheye lenses, the wide-angle format of The Secret Service returns for many scenes, but is at least a little more restrained.

The action scenes might have actually been improved by relying less on their cartoonish complexity. Though the finale is phenomenally put together, the film’s relatively low budget forces it to rely heavily on entire scenes constructed from low-rate CGI. As standard as CGI is for modern action films, it is far too fake-looking when the camera is constantly swirling around the characters.

While additions like the Golden Circle and Statesmen diversify Kingsman in style, as the film approaches its climax, many of the stakes and situations feel too similar to the first film. Since The Secret Service was such a fun movie and the complex action is so thrilling to watch, the film’s second half is very entertaining, just familiar.

The Golden Circle is at its best when at the tips of its spectrum: ridiculous or ruthless; worldwide or within a single character. What made Kingsman’s premiere movie so special was its treatment of relatable characters in a bizarre world. This same blood pumps vigorously through its second outing, but is diluted by side characters, subplots, and social agendas that fall flat.

Despite its shortcomings, The Golden Circle meets expectations set by its predecessor. Though the first’s surprising brutality may not be so surprising this time around, there are still heart-thumping moments that arrive from nowhere to remind audiences that Kingsman is a franchise with no intent to pull its punches. The style is not quite as fresh as it was when The Secret Service was released, but it has not yet expired either.

For its loads of fun despite familiarity, Kingsman: The Golden Circle earns a 7/10. Hopefully when the inevitable Kingsman 3 arrives, it will land from some exploding rooftop square on its feet.