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Dustin Putman

Kingsman: The Golden Circle  (2017)
2½ Stars
Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Elton John, Sophie Cookson, Edward Holcroft, Poppy Delevingne, Michael Gambon, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson, Mark Arnold.
2017 – 141 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, September 19, 2017.
If 2015's "Kingsman: The Secret Service" melded the absurdist and ribald with the serious makings of a James Bond adventure for the here and now, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is a bigger, longer, sillier sequel that pushes its spoofery to the next level. There are flashy gadgets galore (An aquatic car! An electric lasso that slices people in two! A gel pack with powers to regenerate brain cells!). There is a wider array of A-list cast members in supporting parts, plus legendary musician Elton John playing himself in an extended appearance destined to have viewers talking. The stakes are higher from the opening act, when Kingsman security is breached and recently appointed British spy Eggsy (Taron Eggerton) experiences a number of tragic casualties within his trusted circle. Writer-director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman (2016's "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children") have given fans exactly what they likely want and expect from a follow-up, but their film is better when it is creatively devising fresh situations and conflicts for its characters rather than attempting to ape—and ultimately not matching—the first picture's most talked-about set-pieces.

Since last we met, Eggsy (Taron Eggerton) has grown more comfortable in his position as a world-saving secret agent even as he scarcely believes the radical turn his life has taken. From a directionless twenty-something screw-up to a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he yearns to live up to his late mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth). When a mysterious concerted effort is made to destroy the Kingsman operation, Eggsy and trainer/field agent Merlin (Mark Strong) find some much-needed help in the form of their U.S. counterpart, the Kentucky-based Statesman. Under the guise of a major whiskey manufacturer, Statesman head Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and special agents Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry) are happy to help their British friends. Alas, a more pressing national emergency rears its head when a debilitating, ultimately deadly, virus is unleashed in the widespread product of Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the deranged leader of the world's biggest drug cartel. Tired of having to live in hiding—she has created her own 1950s-style town called Poppy Land in the jungles of Cambodia—Poppy hopes this unleashed epidemic for which only she holds the antidote will force the rapid mass legalization of all drugs.

At 141 minutes, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is a skosh on the bloated side, its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach leading to a sense of mild fatigue during the second half. When the picture aims to mimic certain beats of the original—including a brutal, balls-to-the-wall, seemingly single-shot fight sequence pitting Harry against a church of evil radical fundamentalists, and another showdown in a bar—it pales in comparison and doesn't seem half as fresh. Fortunately, there is quite a lot to enjoy and enough that is, indeed, new to tip the scales in the filmmakers' favors. The action does not disappoint, kicking off with a dazzling car-set fight sequence and chase scored to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." Later, a ride on a spinning, out-of-control gondola over the Italian Alps is every bit as hair-raising as it sounds. The explosive finale taking place in Poppy Land is nothing if not ambitiously eager-to-please, full of vicious robotic dogs, hidden land mines, a razor-toothed meat grinder, various Elton John tunes (including "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"), and an unexpectedly kind of touching use of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

Taron Egerton (2016's "Sing") continues to captivate as Eggsy, a youthful action hero who effortlessly alternates between debonair and an ordinary "one of the guys." He is immensely likable, perhaps all the more so because of his identifiable insecurities in questioning if he truly deserves to be entrusted with such great responsibilities. He also has a girlfriend—a princess, to boot—in the sweet-natured Tilde (Hanna Alström), whom he memorably saved at the end of "Kingsman: The Secret Service" and with whom he shares a nice chemistry. Also returning is Colin Firth (2016's "Bridget Jones's Baby") as the thought-dead Harry Hart; Firth is welcome no matter the role, but what is done with his character (both in regard to his means of resurrection and his journey back to being the man he once was) is one of the main culprits in slowing down the second act. Ongoing business involving Harry's new hobby studying butterflies could have easily hit the cutting room floor without anything being missed.

New to the series as the respective Statesman group are Channing Tatum (2016's "Hail, Caesar!"), Halle Berry (2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past") and Jeff Bridges (2015's "Seventh Son"), the lot of them game but underutilized; their setup here hopefully will lead to expanded roles in a third installment. The scene-stealer, without a doubt, is Julianne Moore (2015's "Freeheld"), deliciously, grinningly wicked as narcissistic drug mastermind Poppy Adams. If Moore's '50s-era housewife from 2002's "Far from Heaven" became a homicidal maven and traveled forward in time to kidnap Elton John and force him to perform in her own theater, she would be an uncanny dead-ringer for Poppy. Moore is colorful, chirpy, and chillingly devious, a more memorably conceived villain than Samuel L. Jackson's lisping Valentine from the first "Kingsman."

"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is unapologetically bawdy and sly in its timely political incorrectness; a key plot point involves the megalomaniacal POTUS (Bruce Greenwood) viewing the potential deaths of millions as an ideal way to win the war on drugs. R-rated and satirical though the film is, there is a certain comfort in its adherence to following the basic conventions of a 007 entry. And, as silly as it may be, there is enough levity in Eggsy and his core relationships to take him seriously and care about his plight. "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" might have improved with a tighter edit and an alteration or two in Firth's subplot; Harry's return undercuts the threat of the mission and the demises of certain characters who, for all we know, could come back to life in similarly contrived fashion in the next sequel. Overlooking the film's indulgences is easy, however, when it is so clear in every frame that director Matthew Vaughn cares about this project and its longevity. Indeed, there is enough inspiration and amusement to be had to easily—and happily—imagine this series continuing on for years to come.
© 2017 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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