Matthew Vaughn is not interested in seeking approval from all audiences on his “Kingsman” franchise. The material is an edgy and blunt send-up of the spy genre that features questionable sexual politics and choreographed violence with nihilistic undertones. The loud, messy comic book adaptation launched Taron Egerton’s career in Hollywood and became a surprise hit after its release in the U.K. and domestic run. The sequel debuted to an even better opening weekend, but it comes at the expense of the original’s subversive charm.
With pacing problems and a lack of tonal balance, the follow-up disservices several of its characters in a plot that tries to fill gaps as the overlong film goes on. Written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman (frequent “X-Men” writer), a bigger budget and high-caliber supporting cast are utilized this time around. Their efforts, as glamorous as the weapon technology and familiar faces are, still do not overcome a screenplay that borders on the line of coherency.
After all headquarters are destroyed, Eggsy (Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) discover a bottle of whiskey that was tucked away for a certain time. It leads them to their American cousins, the Statesman agents, adding Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Jeff Bridges to the mix. Julianne Moore plays the villain, Poppy Adams, a kingpin with a diabolical plan to end the War on Drugs. She is unsurprisingly exceptional in an against-type role, but its one (like some of the ones mentioned above) that ultimately fizzles disappointingly. Scrapping everything audiences know about Kingsman for an amusing premise like this sounds conceivable, but the only part of this movie that truly works is Eggsy’s relationship with Colin Firth’s Harry.
He returns to the series after his character’s death and if you’re wondering how they did it, don’t think too hard. Firth and Egerton share a chemistry that almost makes that part forgivable, though there are too many other character choices that are not. The fact that 20th Century Fox is trying to generate buzz for the film by featuring Tatum heavily in the marketing is ridiculous. He doesn’t even play the character he was cast for because of some kind of scheduling conflict. Pedro Pascal does well in his role as agent Whiskey, but Tatum’s star power was intended to be a big draw for ticket buyers.
There is no time to wonder about the character because Vaughn is constantly jumping from one high-octane combat scene to the next while trying to weave in story developments. He is quite good at stylized violence and there’s one scene that can stand side by side with the predecessor’s church massacre montage. It is a shame that he can’t use those skills in service of a reasonable plot; an introduction is ignored altogether in favor of an action sequence that is supposed to set the story in motion.
Complete with semi-entertaining subplots like Eggsy’s continued relationship with the princess of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom), an Elton John hostage situation and an opportune political leaders scenario, “Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle” gets a little tangled in its own web. Eggsy has outdone himself to say the least and the end suggests another crossroads in the franchise. Maybe next time Firth and Egerton will be surrounded by a sturdier narrative.