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All that glitters – ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’

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Stylish action sequel doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor

Capturing lightning in a bottle is a rare thing in the cinematic world. Doing it twice is almost unheard of.

In 2015, Matthew Vaughn captured that lightning with “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” adapted from the comic series of the same name written by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It was a frenetic, kinetic action film, full of stylized violence and offbeat humor.

It was a pretty high bar – one that a potential sequel was likely to struggle to hurdle.

But while “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” does struggle to fully capture the spirited tone of the first film, there’s enough of that same amped-up aesthetic to prove more or less satisfactory to moviegoers. This new movie isn’t quite as freewheeling and devil-may-care as its predecessor, but it’s still a pretty good time at the movies.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton, “Sing”) is a full-fledged Kingsman now, protecting the Commonwealth by day and spending his nights with his girlfriend Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom, “Sami Blood”). He’s a major part of the operation, along with old friends like fellow agent Roxy (Sophie Cookson, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) and tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong, “Miss Sloane”).

But it turns out that a deceptively nice yet decidedly ruthless international drug kingpin (queenpin?) by the name of Poppy (Julianne Moore, “Suburbicon”) wants Kingsman out of the way. Thanks to interference from rejected Kingsman gone bad Charlie (Edward Holcraft, “The Sense of an Ending”), she gets her wish. Only Eggsy and Merlin are able to carry on … but they’re going to need some help.

That help comes courtesy of a never-before-used Doomsday Protocol, which leads Eggsy and Merlin to Kentucky. There, on the grounds of a massive distillery, they discover the Statesman, the American version of their own organization. Not only do they meet new agents – hothead Tequila (Channing Tatum, “Logan Lucky”), techie Ginger Ale (Halle Berry, “Kidnap”), top agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, TV’s “Narcos”) and head honcho Champagne (Jeff Bridges, “The Only Living Boy in New York”) – but they also discover that their presumed-dead comrade Harry (Colin Firth, “Bridget Jones’s Baby”) is very much alive, albeit with amnesia.

Anyway, it turns out Poppy wants to be famous, so she spikes her product with a virus or whatever that gives people a blue rash and then eventually kills them horribly. Then, she demands that the world legalize her product so she can come out of the shadows; only then will she release the antidote.

It falls to Eggsy, Merlin and a still kinda messed-up Harry – along with the help of Statesman – to save the day, finding a way to track down Poppy and put a stop to her scheme. They’re the only ones who can save the millions upon millions of potential victims.

Bear in mind that there’s a lot of other stuff going on in this movie. The margins of the narrative are stuffed with subplots of varying degrees of necessity. Some of it is funny, some of it results in some pretty fantastic set pieces, but it just gets to be too much. There’s real runtime bloat here – the film clocks in at 141 minutes and could have pretty easily been trimmed to two hours even.

Still, while it’s overlong, it’s never dull. Even the unnecessary stuff is in the brightly-colored high-octane quick-cut vein that is director Vaughn’s wheelhouse. It’s fun to watch even when what you’re seeing doesn’t matter all that much. There’s so much delightful nonsense to be found here. There’s the usual wildly-implausible tech gadgetry that leads to both solid action and great gags. There are the over-the-top settings – mountaintop cabins and weird 1950s theme parks hidden in jungles. There’s lunatic violence and coarse jokes and – perhaps most insane of all – an extended cameo by Elton John (yes, THAT Elton John) that simply must be experienced to be believed.

This role fits Egerton like one of the many impeccably-tailored suits that he wears throughout. He’s got charisma to spare and a gift for exuding the rough charm that a character like Eggsy requires. Firth is awesome; watching Mr. Darcy kick ass is never going to get old. Moore clearly delights in playing the heavy, twisting a perverse cheeriness into full-on Bond villain territory. Strong is, as always, a stalwart, steadying presence.

The Statesman crew, with the exception of Pascal, don’t get as much to do. Pascal’s around the most, but has perhaps the least impact. It’s not his fault – and he gives it his all – but the story doesn’t require much of him. Tatum has some fun as the ropin’ and ridin’ good old boy, but he’s not nearly as present as you’d expect. Berry’s job is kind of thankless, while Jeff Bridges is almost certainly here solely because he’s Jeff Bridges.

“The Golden Circle” was never going to be able to reach the bar set by the first “Kingsman.” This new installment doesn’t carry that element of surprise that the initial film did. It’s a little too long. And there’s a whiff of try-hard about it; in their push to recapture that first movie’s style, they sacrificed some of its spirit. Still, it’s a solid effort as far as sequels go. If you dug the first one, you’ll almost certainly have a good time here.

Hail to the Kingsman.

[4 out of 5]

1 comment

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