3 (out of 4)
Delivering just about everything you could want from a sequel of its ilk, The Golden Circle manages not to trip itself up with excessive seriousness and universe expansion, or get too caught up trying to top the original Kingsman's adrenaline-injected action.
To my great surprise, most of the 141 minute runtime is devoted to developing the key characters of Eggsy, (Taron Egerton) Harry (Colin Firth) and Merlin (Mark Strong) all while keeping an even pace of gadgetry, action spectacle and more than expected self-indulgence. If you didn’t care for The Secret Service, I can only imagine how sincerely you will loathe this film. But for those who rode high on Matthew Vaughn’s cheeky Bond-lite remix – bloodied and foulmouthed for our desensitized, meta-minded zeitgeist of now – The Golden Circle is a nourishing follow up with only faint symptoms of sequelitus.
What ultimately makes the new Kingsman great fun is that Matthew Vaughn takes his craft seriously even when his focus is terribly silly – he relishes in absurdity, meticulous stunt work and coy winks to the audience. But Vaughn's style churns with purpose, weaving an ambitious plot of end of the world crisis and topical politics through seamless match cuts and transitions. Even when Elton John's grating extended cameo – the movie's obvious weak spot – repeatedly threatens in to derail Kingsman's momentum, the brazen auteur smooths out many of the film's cracks and leaves you with a sense that the ridiculousness has still been thoroughly mapped out.
That said, I wish the script had a little more time for Champ (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila (Channing Tatum) of Statesman, as well as a few other fine expansions to the cast. But centering on our established heroes is a safe and well-played bet – crossing the border to Kentucky is more a footnote than a detour. Instead we get more of Julianne Moore's Poppy Adams, a marked improvement from the cartoonish lisp of Samuel L. Jackson's villain, and a larger role for Hanna Alström as Swedish Princess turned Eggsy's girlfriend.
Contrary to the repulsed reactions I was aware of before seeing it, Kingsman is far from being too over the top or ambitiously lengthy – had it gone for a few more gross outs beyond human burgers or gone numb with set pieces before the climax kicked in, I would understand the hate. But as it stands, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is fervently entertaining, richly populated and makes the idea of a third entry seem reasonable, if not entirely necessary.
To keep it brief...