Sequels are tricky creatures. If you loved the first, you’ll want to see more of what you loved. But if you didn’t care for the original, you can already presume that the second isn’t for you and you should probably avoid. As your substitute film reviewer, I can assure the fans of the original Kingsmen film that the sequel is more of the same, but in a good way.
As comic book adaptations are wont to do, the Kingsmen: The Golden Circle starts with some literal bangs and keeps the pedal to the floor of this crazy British spymobile for the entire runtime. And, not only do we have the Kingsmen, but we are introduced to the American version: the Statesmen, disguised as a Jack Daniels-esque whiskey distillery in Kentucky. This gives us not only Channing Tatum as codename Tequila, but Halle Berry and oddly enough, Pedro Pascal as Whiskey. Hearing a Chilean who’s best known as (tragically dead) smooth-talker Oberyn from Game of Thrones portray a country-bumpkin spy is a bit jarring, but he’s as fascinating as ever to watch.
Overall, this film is very much like watching a James Bond flick through a kaleidoscope, perhaps on drugs. The drug allusion is apt, given that the villain is a 1950s Americana-obsessed drug kingpin (queenpin?) played by Julianne Moore. She’s the richest and most powerful person on earth, but lives in obscurity in her own manufactured Main Street in the middle of the Cambodian jungle. The machinations get a little silly, but her character does force us to take a real and honest look at our relationship with illegal drugs and the subsequent war on drugs that’s still being fought. Is it morally ok for otherwise morally good and productive citizens to die simply because they broke a rule and popped a pill to work a 20-hour day, or smoked a blunt because they had a fight with their boyfriend? Moore’s Poppy forces us to think about this, and the results are not pretty.
One thing Kingsmen has going for it is spectacular CG-enhanced locations, from high-speed chases through the London streets at night, lush aerial views of Kentucky and Glastonbury, to the Italian Alps and aforementioned Cambodian jungles. It’s eye candy, as is one of the best celebrity cameos I’ve witnessed in Sir Elton John. He gets to chew the scenery in feathers and glittered platform heels, and it’s simply spectacular.
As for the Kingsmen gang themselves, we get to spend more quality time with Eggsy (Taron Egerton), Harry (Colin Firth), and Merlin (Mark Strong)… and although the marketing has spoiled the surprise of Firth’s return from the dead, I won’t spoil how he comes back and who else might be returning. No longer a trainee, Eggsy goes through the normal pitfalls of being a young agent, seeing situations unprecedented in the stories Kingsmen history. Strong in particular is fantastic, especially in his scenes with Ginger (Berry), his American counterpart who runs ops for the Statesmen.
Even with the moral conundrum and paradox of how to handle illegal drugs as a society, this is a light comic book popcorn flick, one that’s occasionally ridiculous, but always fun to watch.