The idea that “bigger is better” is one that Hollywood often applies to its sequels, upping the explosions, effects, body counts and stunt casting of its action-hit follow-ups rather than attempting to create fresh stories and genuine creativity.
This weekend’s new “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is another example of that thinking, with its trailers proclaiming the additions of stars Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry to the cast of this sequel to 2015’s surprise spy movie hit “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Unfortunately, while such big talents should have taken this to a higher level, they’re all underused in another example of Hollywood hype.
The fantastic first “Kingsman” set up the adventures of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a 17-year-old Briton who was recruited to join a secret society of spies called Kingsman by agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who was code-named Galahad. The movie followed Eggsy through an inventive and action-packed series of training exercises before he teamed up with Galahad to combat an evil cellphone mogul (Samuel L. Jackson) who concocted a fiendishly evil plan to kill off millions in the hopes of stemming global warming.
“Secret” brought an impressive flair to its action sequences, thanks to director Matthew Vaughn, who had honed a unique style that blended humor with hyper-violence in the two “Kick-Ass” superhero movies. The combination of Firth’s middle-aged cool with Egerton’s manically youthful energy played superbly off of Jackson, who seemed to enjoy his role more than any he had in a decade.
Vaughn is back at the helm of “Circle,” co-writing again with Jane Goldman, and kicks things off impressively with Eggsy forced to fend off an attempted kidnapping by his enemy Charlie (Edward Holcroft) in an utterly insane car chase/battle royale. Charlie had been rejected by Kingsman and appeared to be killed off in the first film, but it turns out he survived with only the need for a new robotic arm to replace the one that was lopped off.
While Eggsy escapes the attack, Charlie’s robotic arm manages to access Eggsy’s secret Kingsman login, and soon the agency’s secret headquarters and nine other prime targets are decimated by missiles. A series of clues spurs Eggsy and sidekick Merlin (Mark Strong) to head to Kentucky, where they discover a parallel American agency called Statesman that’s hidden inside a whiskey distillery.
The two initially wind up teaming with Statesman Agent Tequila (Tatum) to take on a villain named Poppy (Moore), who is attempting to consolidate and dominate the entire planet’s illegal drug trade under her cartel, named the Golden Circle. Eggsy and Merlin also have to contend with the shocking discovery that Harry is alive and being held by the Statesman agents after he appeared to be killed in the first film.
The problem is, Harry has severe amnesia and the attempts to revive his memory have gone very wrong. As they drag him into their attempt to save the planet from Poppy, Harry may prove to be as much of a liability as an asset.
Much of the fun in the first “Kingsman” came from its training sequences, as Eggsy was subjected to a vast array of highly dangerous tests en route to joining the agency. Since he’s not in need of training anymore, “Circle” suffers from the fact that a large part of its middle section has no big action sequences at all, leaving much of the mayhem to the first and last half-hours of its 141-minute running time.
Moore stays mired throughout in Poppy’s remote lair, cackling up a storm but never doing much other than ordering Charlie – who became her right-hand man after his Kingsman rejection – and her other minions around. Tatum starts out having a blast as Agent Tequila, but is soon incapacitated for much of the movie while Bridges, who plays the head of the Statesman agents, also has hardly anything to do. Berry is basically reduced to Miss Moneypenny-style status, supporting the Statesmen at their base, albeit with a sweetly whimsical charm.
On the plus side, “Circle” features a funny extended celebrity cameo I won’t give away, with a veteran English superstar poking a surprising amount of fun at himself. There’s also a rollicking sequence involving Eggsy and Merlin fleeing an attack onboard an out-control-funicular in the Italian Alps.
Regarding content, “Circle” features a rather large amount of profanity, with about 50 F-words and some other random language throughout. In the context of its action-comedy tone, it’s not particularly shocking, however.
The most potentially offensive element is a sequence in which Eggsy has to implant a tracking device with Charlie’s girlfriend. It is a rather raunchy sequence but brief in the overall spectrum of the film – if you have seen the first film or others in this genre and took risqué humor in stride, you’ll handle this. But if you’re easily offended, take note: it doesn’t involve nudity but is nonetheless pretty extreme.
One plus is that “Circle” doesn’t feature any scenes that are sacrilegious or anti-Christian. The first film’s biggest flaw was a controversial, highly violent scene in which an entire fundamentalist church’s congregation was shot to pieces after a rant by a conservative preacher.
The final battles devolve into a bunch of hyperactive shootings and explosions that largely lack the wicked charm of the first “Kingsman” movie. But this is still better than most of the action flicks the major studios have released this year and fun enough for those who are fans of the first film and the spy genre, even if unfortunately it’s not quite golden.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.