If you found a way to enjoy Kingsman: The Secret Service when it sneaked into theaters back in 2014, you’ll like Kingsman: The Golden Circle, which drops this weekend. Golden Circle has the same over-the-top action, the same cartoonish sex and the great acting from lead Taron Egerton (Eggsy) that made the first film a hit. Even the white male South Park Republican snarkiness that almost turned me off the first film has an interesting twist this time around.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the rarest of Hollywood movies: a sequel that actually builds on the politics and plot of the first movie instead of just being an obvious grab for more cash.
The opening sequence of Golden Circle is the most fantastic eight minutes of action you will see in any movie until John Wick: Chapter 3 comes out in 2019. It’s got spies, guns, cyborgs and a ridiculous car chase—think of the attempted car assassination of Nick Fury in Captain America: Winter Soldier, then multiply it by the Matrix plus The Fate of the Furious.
Unfortunately, after that scene, the film’s tone changes.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is like an Oscar speech by an actor who is legitimately surprised to win. Not that phony “I can’t believe I won, but here are my prepared comments” speech, but the “Wait, are you serious? I have to come back upstairs for an award? I was already on the curb waiting for my Lyft to get home” kind of speech.
The British screenwriter/director-and-comic-writer combo of Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar killed off so many people and caused so much destruction at the end of Kingsman: The Secret Service, it’s pretty obvious they didn’t expect to ever make a sequel. The result is that Kingsman: The Golden Circle wastes a lot of time re-creating a world they destroyed, while at the same time trying to introduce new characters and set up the plot. The long, drawn-out efforts to bring back Harry Hart/Galahad, played by Colin Firth (a resurrection shown in trailers), alone had the movie dragging when you wanted to get back to the action.
When The Golden Circle isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, it’s actually a fun movie. Eggsy’s team-up with the “Statesmen,” an American version of the Kingsmen, is entertaining and surprisingly organic. Since Kingsman is directed and written by British guys, I guess we can forgive them for thinking that American Southern culture and Western culture are the same thing. That’s the only way you can explain a bunch of cowboy secret agents being based in Kentucky, but as plot holes go, it was a minor one.
Halle Berry plays the Statesman tech guru, and Channing Tatum and Pedro Pascal play the main field agents. Berry breaks her four-movie streak of horrible action-fantasy performances and does a decent job as the nerdy tech. If you’ve been missing a little Oberyn Martell action since season 4 of Game of Thrones, Pedro Pascal does a fantastic job as Agent Whiskey doing a cosplay of 1970s Burt Reynolds. On the flip side, if you’re looking to get your Channing Tatum on, you’re out of luck. The Golden Circle is yet another movie where Tatum is all over the commercials but is hardly in the movie. I don’t know how this guy keeps getting big action-movie checks for glorified guest appearances.
Without giving away the main plot, Kingsman: The Golden Circle again pits our team against an over-the-top, modern-day Bond villain, who is as much a distillation of white-guy™ political fears and annoyances as he is actually up to no good. Kingsman: The Secret Service was Team America: World Police for the superhero fan, an Obama-inspired pouty rant by centrist white guys against scolding, multicultural liberal elites. The villain was literally Samuel Jackson playing Russell Simmons, right down to the lisp.
At the end of the movie, all the activist Hollywood types and political leaders (including Obama) had their heads blown off. The Secret Service wanted to remind you that the world is better off being run by benevolent white guys who can still crack a sexist or racist joke, and everything will be OK. The sequel is almost like chickens coming home to roost.
The American government is once again run by a regular-talking white guy (he’s an obvious pastiche of George W. Bush), but he’s spouting Donald Trump’s politics and is just as much of a problem as the film’s main villain, Poppy (played with delicious ’50s camp by Julianne Moore), a retro feminist who wants to legalize drugs.
The whole film plays out like a debate about the war on drugs, but instead of locking up all those lazy, awful, ghetto-living drug users, The Golden Circle takes pains to humanize drug users as just regular folks wanting to have fun. Literally none of the people of color in the film partake, and the empathy shown to people getting high and shooting up is akin to the magical transformation in America of the “crack epidemic” into the “opioid crisis.” Suddenly, for all the evils in the world, the bad guys are people who want to punish drug users, and the users themselves are just harmless victims, so long as they’re white. The Kingsman franchise maintains its cred as white-male-fantasy spymastery with some whitesplaining political jingoism to boot.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a great date movie or flick to see with your friends to pass the time this weekend before the big-tent movies of the fall start to come out. There are surprises, guest stars and enough flashbacks to explain the movie even if you missed the first one. Like most action spy films, and like its predecessor, it leans a little heavily on the politics of white self-righteousness, but if you can wade through that (no easy task), you’ll be more than happy about dropping the $15 to see the best movie sequel in years.