When The Secret Service introduced Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar’s Kingsman to a wider audience than their comic book series could ever hope to reach, despite grossing four times its budget the one region where it failed to make a significant impact was the crucial territory of North America where it took only 31% of its total box office, serious money but below what would be expected of a project so obviously commercially geared towards that market.
Thus it is that The Golden Circle almost immediately abandons the British settings and jettisons all but the core cast of that first film, Eggsy “Galahad” Unwin (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), sending them across the Atlantic to join the agents of their cousin organisation Statesman, Tequila (Jupiter Ascending‘s Channing Tatum), Ginger Ale (Extant‘s Halle Berry) Whiskey (Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal) and their leader Champagne (R.I.P.D.‘s Jeff Bridges), though he prefers to be addressed as “Champ.”
Reeling from a first strike by an underground international terrorist organisation known as the Golden Circle led by fifties Americana obsessed psychopath Poppy Adams (Carrie‘s Julianne Moore), with their numbers depleted Eggsy and Merlin will have to form a swift if uneasy alliance with Statesman as Adams uses the global reach of her drug empire to hold the world to ransom, with a ticking clock counting down on one of the Statesman and Eggsy’s girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alström).
Once again written by Matthew Vaughn from a script by Jane Goldman and Vaughn, The Golden Circle feels as though it is an uneasy compromise between the charm of the first film and trying too hard to expand the appeal of the premise, opening with an extended action scene as Eggsy is pursued through the streets of London by former Kingsman trainee turned rogue Charlie Hesketh (London Spy‘s Edward Holcroft), the spectacle and tension undermined by painfully obvious digital effects and the overkill of the ridiculous weapons deployed.
Where in many ways The Secret Service pre-empted the plot of Spectre released later the same year, The Golden Circle actually emulates a scene from that film as the mission infiltrates a secret base beneath a ski resort atop a mountain in Italy then attempts escape; while bigger does not necessarily mean better, this at least manages to be both sillier and more spectacular than what supposed leader-of-the-pack James Bond achieved.
The parallel of Bond is also lurking in the manner in which Eggsy obtains the intelligence which leads the team to the remote location, tracking Charlie’s girlfriend Clara (Poppy Delevingne) whom he had targeted for seduction at Glastonbury; while perhaps a dubious inclusion it is no more intrusive than the means 007 has used in the past without hesitation or regret even if less graphically presented.
With Moore’s restrained villainy and scheming crucially failing to match the over-the-top performance of Samuel L Jackson’s outrageous Richmond Valentine neither are the agents of Statesman given the chance to become as vital as their British counterparts, and with Tilde introduced as the butt of a joke in the first film her relationship with Eggsy never feels as real as Eggsy’s reunion with his former mentor, the emotional core of the film largely spoiled by advance publicity.
Conversely, against expectation Elton John’s extended cameo is one of the best things in The Golden Circle but while the film improves as it gathers momentum it never matches its predecessor despite the expanded canvas, feeling more like the conclusion of a trilogy rather than the first sequel between the dismantling of Kingsman, the introduction of Statesman and the resolution of arcs from The Secret Service, neither Eggsy nor the audience ever having been given the chance to experience Kingsman in action as a functioning and capable organisation in all its undoubted but undemonstrated glory.
Kingsman The Golden Circle is now on general release and also screening in IMAX