There was something cathartic about Matthew Vaughn’s first Kingsman movie; it was a love letter to the classic spy movies of the seventies and eighties, a self-aware send-up of everything that made the Roger Moore Bond flicks so ridiculous but also so fun. With The Golden Circle, Kingsman has descended from sincere homage into uninspired pastiche — it’s more of the same, only louder and dumber. If the first film proved that the genre could be reinvigorated without a gritty retooling, the sequel amounts to little more than a cautionary tale of falling prey to formula, an exercise in going back to the well beyond the point of diminishing returns.
The constituent elements of the first film are all present, from Taron Egerton’s immaculately tailored suits to his bevy of absurd spy gadgets — and as was the case the first time around, things get egregiously violent and vulgar. While the first film’s anarchic lack of polish was refreshing two years ago, now it feels more than a little stale. Even Colin Firth’s Harry Hart is back, his shocking second-act death from the prior movie having been retconned through a particularly lazy piece of deus ex machina. And that’s really the heart of the problem with The Golden Circle — when Samuel L. Jackson shot Hart in Kingsman, it punctuated a monologue in which he specifically cited the pernicious genre cliche of the villain pausing to explain his plot rather than just murdering the protagonist. While Jackson aptly stated that Kingsman was not that kind of movie, The Golden Circle is exactly that kind of movie.
Vaughn attempts to breathe some life into his tired tropes with the addition of an American version of Kingsman, a corollary organization known as Statesman. Whereas the Kingsmen are tailors who take their codenames from Arthurian legend, the Statesmen are distillers who take theirs from various libations — you get the picture. What should have provided a novel counterpoint to the very Britishness of the central characters instead provides little more than set dressing, often in the most literal sense. At one point Pedro Pascal’s Statesman operative Whiskey effectively reenacts the barroom brawl that introduced Firth’s Hart in the prior film, but it takes place entirely in the background as Vaughn’s camera lingers on a conversation between the Brits — they seem to be just as bored with this rehash as I found myself.
It’s not all redundant repetition — Julianne Moore is a hell of a lot of fun as a megalomaniacal drug kingpin obsessed with ‘50s Americana, and Elton John has a particularly gratifying turn playing himself. But at close to two-and-a-half hours, The Golden Circle feels needlessly convoluted and tediously overstuffed. The American angle is distinctly underused, Channing Tatum’s role was significantly overstated in the film’s marketing push, and Oscar winner Halle Berry is unduly marginalized in a role that seemingly exists strictly as a setup for an inevitable third installment in the franchise. Diehard fans of the original may find sufficient value in revisiting familiar material, but those looking for anything new or original will find The Golden Circle to be a disappointingly closed loop. Rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.