Those of you who read my best of 2015 list know that the original Kingsman was one of the year’s pleasant surprises, so naturally I was excited for the sequel. Does it live up to the hype, or is it just another retread? The answer is yes.
One year after the events of the first movie, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is enjoying life as a part-time secret agent, spending his free time with his mates and his girlfriend, the beautiful Swedish Princess Tilde. But when a criminal mastermind hacks into Kingsman’s system and remotely kills most of its agents, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) must turn to an unlikely source for help: Statesman, Kingsman’s American counterpart. Together, the agencies discover that the person behind the attack is Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), the world’s richest criminal businesswoman, who’s using her monopoly on the illegal drug trade to hold the world hostage. Now it’s up to Eggsy, Merlin, the Statesman agents, and a resurrected Harry (Colin Firth) to put a stop to her evil plan.
If the plot above seems familiar to you, it’s because it’s not far removed from that of the first installment. The Golden Circle borrows a little too liberally from its predecessor; some of the callbacks are fun and clever, but others veer dangerously close to copy-paste territory. Remember the bar fight? We’ve got another one of those. How about the pug? Check. You want another henchman with a deadly artificial limb? We’ve got you covered. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging your roots, but a truly successful sequel has to find a way to distinguish itself. The movie attempts this with the introduction of Statesman, but the plotline is frustratingly underdeveloped; Channing Tatum is in the movie for all of ten minutes, despite his prominence in the marketing materials.
The story’s other great problem is its villain. Poppy, for all her build-up, amounts to little more than a cheery-psycho archetype. There’s fun to be had with the retro design of her evil layer, and Julianne Moore gives it her all, but the character’s overall flatness pales in comparison to the memorable quirks of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine.
But for all the movie’s flaws, director Matthew Vaughn always manages to find joy in the ludicrous. From robot dogs, to electric lassos, to an endometrial tracking device, The Golden Circle’s commitment to the ridiculous remains as endearing as it was last time. And though it doesn’t quite add up to a cohesive whole, the movie still provides easy laughs, hyper-charged action, and – in its best scene – unexpected poignancy. It’s not as good as the first, and it runs a bit too long, but it gives the audience what they want, even if that’s more of the same.