When we last left Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the young new gentleman spy had assumed the mantle bequeathed to him by his mentor, Harry Hart (the ever-dashing Colin Firth) and saved the world in the refreshing Kingsman — a clever, classy (yet occasionally crass) reinvention of the 60s-era spy genre. Its sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle, set a year later, is an even wilder ride, up-ending Eggsy’s world in a taught, ridiculous thriller that’s…did I mention ridiculous?
Styled like a Sean Connery Bond film on trucker speed, Kingsman: The Golden Circle sets off with an obligatory ( and crazy) action sequence that reintroduces us to Eggsy’s character and reminds us why he deserves to be a member of Kingsman, Britain’s unsanctioned spy organization that answers to no one but itself. That the same group is completely decimated a few minutes later — leaving only Eggsy and Kingsman tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong) still standing — is a mild disappointment given that this is only the second film in the series. I mean, I know it’s become the trend in spy movies to disband or obliterate the protagonist’s support network (ex: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Spectre) to make their hero’s journey tougher, but it would’ve had more emotional impact to see Eggsy actually be a Kingsman for a movie before blowing it all to hell (literally).
The villain this time out is Poppy Adams, mastermind of The Golden Circle crime organization. Played brilliantly by Julianne Moore, Poppy is a vicious yet saccharine sweet drug lord who’s like a cross between Martha Stewart and Will and Grace’s Karen Walker. Moore is a scene-stealer, holding the world hostage with a smile and a questionably sourced hamburger.
As a result of Kingsman’s fall, Eggsy and Merlin seek out Statesman, their American equivalent. Where Kingsman is buttoned-up and dapper, the Kentucky-based Statesman is southern eloquence and timeless Americana, personified by the likes of cowboyish agent Tequila (square-jawed Channing Tatum) and electrified lariat-wielding Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, doing his best Burt Reynolds impression).
The big surprise in all this is the return of Harry Hart, thanks to some deus ex machina trickery that’s essentially technobabble for “a wizard did it.” Firth adds that touch of suave refinement mixed with brutality that, when juxtaposed with Egerton’s more earnest energy, makes them a formidable team. While Harry’s return is hard to swallow, this is also a universe in which a very game Sir Elton John (yes, that Elton John) hilariously exercises his chops as an action star. What’s not to love about that?
Returning director Matthew Vaughn directs Kingsman: The Golden Circle with effortless panache and style. Fight scenes are balletic 360-degree affairs in which each kick, punch, and projectile leads into the next, leaving you gasping with exhilaration. Set piece scenarios, such as a ski lift turned deadly centrifuge, make anything that old fuddy duddy Bond had to deal with seem ho-hum. Some of it, like Poppy’s 1950s Disney-esque mountain lair, are a little out there, but still fantastical fun.
What worked for Kingsman works for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Vaughn has indicated that he’s not finished with the Kingsman universe just yet, hoping to make at least a trilogy of films, and I certainly hope that’s true. In a cinematic world in which Bond and his contemporaries get darker and more brooding, we need the unabashed fun and frivolity of Kingsman more than ever.