As befits a series that began life as a series of comic books by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, the Kingsman films, first The Secret Service (2014) and now The Golden Circle, possess a cartoonish zest to go with their tales of Bond-like derring-do, their Bourne-levels of violent self-discovery and their almost superhero capacity to save the world with infinite ease.
And yet for all their well-dressed flamboyance – agents like protagonist Eggsy Unwin/Galahad (Taron Egerton) look positively dapper from start to finish in snug doublebreasted suits that still allow plenty of room for near-acrobatic fighting sequences – these films are not without their moments of real import, of deeply-human immediacy, anchoring them happily in a world that may look giddily comic but is often anything but.
That is, of course, because there are very serious things at stake, both personal and worldwide, things worth fighting for, crying over and pouring all your blood sweat and tears into.
Which is a good thing since nothing but cartoonish incredulity does not an emotionally-resonant adventure make; Kingsman: The Golden Circle is yet more proof, in Matthew Vaughn’s adroit hand, that it is possible to be giddily over the top and yet confronting, candy-colour expansive and yet possessed of a very real and beating human heart.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its flaws – sometimes it’s a tad too glib about deaths, ushering them too early and with clinical, emotionally-cauterising efficiency, and it is a little too padded and overlong – but for the most part, a considerable chunk of its 141 minute-running time fortunately, it is an entertaining romp across the world with goody seeking out baddy and the rest of us along, reasonably happily for the ride.
The Big Bad this time around is both brand new, a multi-billion dollar drug cartel fronted by Poppy Adams (Julianna Moore who has the time of scene-chomping life) which is headquartered in the jungles of ’50s-Americana accented Cambodian jungle, and old with Eggsy’s old Kingsman-aspirant nemesis – the former got in, the latter, quite bitterly, did not, his upper crust sensibilities suitably and egregiously twisted – Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft) back for some bionic-arm (named “Armageddon” by Poppy with a malevolent giggle) assisted vengeance.
It’s this vengeful purpose, backed by Poppy’s considerable resources, that kicks The Golden Circle off into almost-instant high gear as Eggsy, leaving the Kingsman tailor headquarters one night enroute home to a birthday dinner with his friends and girlfriend, Swedish crown princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), is set upon by Charlie, all menacing fury and aggrieved intent (much of it class-based hilariously), resulting in a deliciously balletic car chase through the tight and unforgiving streets of London.
It has all the improbably twists and turns, and in one brilliantly poetic moment, a smooth as silk slide through gaps in traffic on a roundabout, that you would expect of combatants duelling with heavy motor vehicles, all set to suitably high-octane pumping music.
If this were a Bond film, and in many ways, not the least the sheer Britishness of it all, it has all the hallmarks while remaining distinctly its own espionage creature, everything would be based on spectacle alone.
While that is largely true for The Golden Circle, Eggsy is such a, ahem, well-cut character, both personally and sartorially – the point is made again and again that the station of your birth does not determine if you are a decent human being or not – that there is far more going on than just a simple, murderous car chase.
The hero of the story, who is somehow still bested though coming out on top by a piece of Charlie’s left behind technology, is devoted to Tilde and the life he has with her, one not officially sanctioned by the Kingsman’s Catholic priest-strength celibacy edicts, something which informs his actions both now and throughout the movie.
It’s not some cheesy piece of cloying humanity shoehorned into the narrative, though it certainly does serve its purposes; rather it is the beating heart of why Eggsy does what he does, a man who discovered in his new life that who you are and what you do could be far bigger than you ever imagined.
For that new life, and the eye-opening perspective that continually comes with it, he can thank his mentor Harry Hart aka also Galahad (Colin Firth) who – SPOILER ALERT! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM – it turns out is not so dead after all, saved from the “Red Wedding” Kentucky church shootout of the first film by the American branch of Kingsman, Statesman.
Eschewing tailoring for whisky-distilling and headed by an agreeably-avuncular Jeff Bridges as Champagne aka “Champ”, who’s aided by the Southern rakish charms of Tequila (Channing Tatum) and the technological expertise of Ginger Ale (Halle Berry in winningly geeky form) and the dubious loyalties of Jack Daniels/Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), the US cousins of the venerable spy agency are richer, more brazen and the Kingsman’s haven in a vengeful storm.
With Statesmen providing much-needed resources, and with faithful Merlin (Mark Strong), Kingsman’s techno-whiz along for the ride, Eggsy takes on Poppy’s ruthlessly cheery might on a story that is suitably bombastically technicolour, happy to poke fun at a certain current US presidency (there are shades of both Trump and the Philippines’ Duterte) and official War on Drugs policy into the bargain.
Thanks to a star turn by Moore, who appears to be having an absolute ball as the cruelly sugarcoated drugs entrepreneur who preens and sashays her way through a succession of diabolically-nasty moves, and even a comedically-inspired piece of acting by Elton John, held hostage in Poppy’s Cambodian lair for musical entertainment as needed, and Vaughn’s willingness to go gleefully over the top, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a worthy, if slightly bloated, sequel to its predecessor.
Thanks though to Eggsy, who is the beating heart and soul of this story, possessed of a thankfulness that he is where he is, never arrogant but possessed of a healthy confidence in his own abilities, now well-honed and far past his once clunky start, the film also has a considerable degree of heart and soul.
This robust balance between comedic silliness, real humanity and some impressively balletic action scenes, is maintained, reasonably consistently throughout the film, which only occasionally wobbles under the weight of its many moving pieces.
Sequels are never quite the match for their predecessors but Kingsman: The Golden Circle fairs better than most, augmented by a soundtrack replete with the likes of Prince and, f course, Elton John, delivering up a film that is gloriously cartoonishly fun, cognisant still of the human cost of it all, while still remaining movingly human, a lesson that many bombastic blockbusters, all CGI-spectacle, cardboard cutout characters and little else, would do well to take a lesson from.