Summer season is officially over, but 20th Century Fox and director Mathew Vaughn either haven't gotten the memo or don't really care which is why the fall movie season begins with a bloated big budget extravaganza that feels like it was made to open before labor day. To be fair, Vaughn and company, which this time around include Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges and Hally Berry along with original cast members Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth, still manage to deliver the subversive fun and action of the original film. But even with THAT as a disclaimer, this second movie feels like a text book case of what is disappointing about a sequel that doesn't live up to the freshness and the originality of the first film.
I'm not saying that Kingsman The Secret Service reinvented the action spy movie when it came out three years ago, but that movie had visceral balls to the wall energy and a distinct humor and point of view that made it stand out and one hell of a good time. With the sequel Mathew Vaughn and his screenwriting partner Jane Goldman (Stardust, X-Men First Class) strive to do something different with the British spy archetype (which we all know is James Bond) but keep getting sidetracked by the biggest cliche and trap a sequel can fall prey too: The bigger it is the better it will be. All they needed to do was watch a Transformers sequel to know that that is just not true.
Golden Circle begins with a sequence that would lead you to believe that as a filmmaker Vaughn was totally inspired to try to do something different within the restrictions of a sequel (a fantastic chase sequence set to Prince's Let's Go Crazy). But during the rest of the film the restrictions and conventions of a sequel win out and then the dull uninspired plot kicks in.
There is a new super villain who of course wants world domination. This time around it's Julianne Moore playing a character named Poppy who's a thinly disguised take of what would happen if Martha Stewart was a complete psycho. Moore clearly has fun with the character as well as Vaughn and Goldman in creating a specific aesthetic for a lunatic who loves everything in pop culture that is related to 50's nostalgia. But then the screenwriters do something inexplicable. They stick their main villain behind the desk, falling prey to the Goldfinger/James Bond dynamic they had skewed so well with Samuel L Jackson in the first film.
From that said desk, Poppy tries to eliminate all the Kingsman facilities in the world which leads to sole survivors Merlin (Strong) and Eggsy (Egerton) to reach out to their "American Cousin" agent program. Which leads the way for what turns out to be the stunt casting of Bridges, Berry and Tatum. While Jeff Bridges manages to have a little fun in the American equivalent of the Michael Cain role in the first film (minus the treachery), Halle Berry and Channing Tatum are shockingly put on stand by for possible spin offs in franchise that might never materialize. That in itself is distracting and disappointing but not more than what Goldman and Vaughn have come up with to bring Colin Firth's character, who died brutally at the end of the first film's best sequence.
During this overblown sequel, the screenwriters seemed to be convinced that with Eggsy they are writing the anti-James Bond, which means that they stick him with a monogamous relationship with the captured princess who gives up the booty at the end of the first movie and go full blown father figure/mentor with his relationship with Harry (Firth). But what they come up with to bring that character back is as uninspired as the rest of the sequel tropes that bring this movie down. It's a basic NO he didn't really die sequence that undoes one of the boldest storytelling decisions of the first film and the sticks the character with amnesia. I mean, an EVIL TWIN would have been just as clinched and just a tad more interesting.
To be fair, the main reason why most of the filmmakers's decisions frustrate and disappoint is because they just don't match the unexpected creativity and naughty spirit of the first film. But even though Vaughn gives it a go, the thrill is gone. He goes for bigger and refuses to compromise on silly bits (no this will NOT just be an ELTON JOHN CAMEO) instead paying attention to the picture as a whole. To be clear, The Golden Circle is not even in the vicinity of a disappointing and mediocre Michael Bay directed sequel, but it's still fails in not living up to or finding something new to do with the concept of the original film.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle arrives in theaters September 22.