From the get-go, you'll be baited into believing that Kingsman: The Golden Circle will build on the unabashedly trope-smashing delights of the original and take you on yet another riproaring spy-saves-the-world adventure.
Director Matthew Vaughn, in fact, wastes no time rolling out a slambang start. His first somewhat pleasurable move: a dizzying close-quarters combat between hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton, now going by the codename Galahad and looking well-versed in the ways of a bespoke operative) and comebacking heel Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft as disgruntled Kingsman reject turned baddie with a souped-up a bionic arm). He then ramps up the crazy and sets this contentious James-Bond-versus-Henchman-With-Issues routine to Prince's bouncy "Let's Go Crazy" for maximum effect.
Because degree of difficulty is a must, the kick-ass bout happens inside a proper British black cab as it speeds through the slippery and wet streets of London at night. Of course, it's kitted out to the brim with the prerequisite tech wizardry spoiled secret agents not named Jason Bourne are accustomed to destroying. Which means it can pull a nifty trick or two, like channeling iconic Bond ride, the Lotus Esprit S1, from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and transforming into a submarine for our hero's quick escape.
On paper, that last bit looks like a superb resolution to a showstopping five-minute encounter in a sequel that's dead set on trumpeting how big a franchise it has seemingly become. It's an understandable ploy—entertaining even—but unoriginal in the end. (Fyi, that famous scene from the late Roger Moore's cheeky Bond film was parodied by Mike Myers in Austin Powers: Goldmember in 2002.)
It's obvious The Golden Circle's attempt at charting its own journey puts the film at a major disadvantage. Without solid comic book inspiration to draw from—the just-released official sequel to the popular mini-series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman: The Red Diamond, is barely two-issues old—this bloated follow-up becomes nothing more than a sleek cookie-cutter revenge film carried out by a resentful wannabe bankrolled by a '50s-obsessed psychopathic druglord with perpetually sunny disposition (Julianne Moore).
The difference's quite telling when ranged against the irreverent plot revealed in Rob Williams' Kingsman: The Red Diamond. In the first issue, Eggsy's called upon to save Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburg and husband of Queen Elizabeth II) from Greek terrorists who kidnap Her Majesty's grumpy hubby over Brexit concerns. After the daring rescue, though, the Duke, instead of being grateful, insults Eggsy and his proletariat roots. Naturally, the short-tempered protagonist decks the Prince with a mean right and gets suspended.
That unapologetic takeoff point sounds like a solid and on-brand premise perfect for Kingsman 3, if that's even still in the cards for Eggsy and his newfound pals from The Statesman, a US-based clandestine spy organization that helps the Brit superspy in foiling the nefarious designs of Julianne's Poppy Adams—and, secondarily, a mad US president's genocidal master plan to eradicate global drug addiction.
Academy Award winner Julianne Moore does her best imbuing her performance as chief villain with a playful sense of megalomania and good ol'-fashioned viciousness. Her fellow Oscar-winning actors, Jeff Bridges (too quirky), Halle Berry (badass ex-Bond girl turned bland I.T. gal), and, surprise, Colin Firth (resurrected and original Galahad, but hardly mission-ready), however, suffer from poor characterization that banks heavily on star power and novelty.
The same can be said of box-office magnet Channing Tatum, who, as trigger-happy Agent Tequila, complements his English counterpart's roguish charm. Surprisingly, Tatum gets benched as the film reaches its high-octane denouement. Good thing, Game of Thrones' Oberyn Martell—Narcos star Pedro Pascal as Agent Whiskey—isn't shy about turning his awesome action heroics to 11.
Through him, Vaughn recreates some of Kingsman: The Secret Service's frenetic and over-the-top gun-fu with plenty of crowd-pleasing cowboy flair and rugged Burt Reynolds-swagger to spare. In Pascal's stellar scene-stealing turn, the British filmmaker—or any of today's acclaimed young directors for that matter—may have found another heavyweight lead to anchor his next hip action caper on.
After all, unlike the movie, he is absolutely ace.