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KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE is a Fun But Safer Sequel (Review)

The surprise hit is something Hollywood doesn’t really know how to handle. The practicing of giving anything slightly off-kilter the budget to actually get made (and hoping it might turn a profit) is falling by the wayside, but once in awhile these films do make it to cinemas, and every once in a while those movies are great. But what do you do with them after that initial success? If it’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, the 2014 movie which took a Mark Millar comic and made a very raunchy, hyper-violent send-up of the James Bond oeuvre that grossed $414 million worldwide, you put a sequel in the works right away. Now, three years later, the sequel is here and the result is spending more time with characters you like, but losing a fair amount of the original’s edge.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle wastes no time in getting back to the action, proving director Matthew Vaughn’s knack for giving audiences frenetic, well-choreographed fight sequences. The sequel opens with our hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) having a slobber-knocker with Charlie (Edward Holcroft), a washed-out Kingsman recruit from the first film who has now broken bad, in the back of Eggsy’s taxi cab. To prove just how much fun a sequence like this could be, we get the diegetic use of Prince’s seminal “Let’s Go Crazy” as the fight ensues and Charlie’s cohorts follow in heavily armed sedans. It’s certainly a great way to start the film.

Almost immediately, the story sets about to upend everything from the first movie. We find Eggsy is in a committed relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), the character who was at the center of the first film’s controversial ending, and shortly thereafter this film’s villain–a ’50s Americana-obsessed drug magnate played by Julianne Moore–destroys pretty much all of Kingsman. This, in turn, forces Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) to travel abroad and find allies in the form of Kingsman’s American counterpart, Statesman, whose cover is a Kentucky bourbon distillery headed by characters with names like Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Merlin’s opposite number Ginger (Halle Berry).

The plot from there follows the same screwed-up 007-type scheme as the first movie: Moore has laced all of her drugs–which includes pot, cocaine, heroin, meth, etc.–with a poison that starts by giving people pronounced blue veins on their hands and face and ends with a violent, bloody death. The aim is to hold the world ransom in order to make all drugs legal, and therefore taxable, but the Good Ol’ Boy American president (Bruce Greenwood) sees the death of all drug users (almost all of them nonviolent) as a good thing. Obviously there is some social and political satire here, which is welcome.

So it’s up to Eggsy and his new American friends to save the world again, and it’s all entertaining enough, but the movie ultimately can’t live up to the gonzo nature of the first installment. The Secret Service was a massive hit despite and because of how bananas it was and how over-the-top it went in every area, but that also means the sequel has to cater to a wider audience. It’s still R-rated, so it has the violence and swearing you’ve come to expect, but it really feels like everything is pulled back. There is hardly any blood, the raunchiness was toned down a bit, and everything just feel a lot sweeter.

The success the original Kingsman, especially in America, has necessitated the inclusion of Statesman, evidently, and while we add in doing so, we also lose what I and many other people liked about the first film, which was its inherent Britishness. They couldn’t commit to doing another movie about a staunchly British spy agency, so they had to blow it up in favor of adding cowboy-hatted swagger. Why did we care about anything in the first movie then? It couldn’t even commit to the bravest thing the first one did, which was keep Galahad (Colin Firth), the first film’s mentor figure, dead. If you’ve seen any sort of advertisement for The Golden Circle, you know he’s back, and I couldn’t help but feel like he maybe didn’t want to be.

Despite a whole lot of bet-hedging, there’s still a lot to enjoy about Kingsman: The Golden Circle, including a very hilarious extended cameo and some suitably bombastic set pieces. I’d certainly be happy with more Kingsman movies, because Egerton is a winning leading man and Vaughn’s action direction remains fantastic, but this movie feels like a victim of its unanticipated success. If the first Kingsman left you going “Wow!” this one leaves you saying “Hmm…cool.” And while it doesn’t reach the same hyperbolic heights as the first film, there are certainly worse things than being entertained for two hours.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Burritos

Images: 20th Century Fox

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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