‘Kingsman: Golden Circle’ is notch above predecessor

September 30, 2017

While "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is a notch above its predecessor in terms of wild and wooly action set pieces, it remains only the second-best film this year to feature Channing Tatum and a version of "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

The John Denver chestnut features prominently here and in last month's "Logan Lucky" (and while Tatum was the lead in "Lucky," he is really only a blip on the screen here), but in "Kingsman," two verses of the song are sung in a scene where just one would have sufficed. And that pretty much sums up this sequel to the 2015 action-comedy. It's hyper-stylized, familiar fun that doesn't really know when to call it quits.

At a time when films based on comics increasingly attempt to ground themselves in authenticity, "Golden Circle" makes very little effort to replicate realism and instead embraces its world that could only exist on pages with panels and speech bubbles.

For the uninitiated, "Kingsman" is based on series of British-U.S. comics released earlier in the decade, focused on a fictitious spy agency and brought to the screen by director Matthew Vaughn with Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson as opposing agents and Taron Egerton as Firth's young, streetwise protege, Eggsy. After being plucked from the gutter and groomed to be a superspy in the last film, Eggsy is now ready to take the lead after his mentor Harry (played by Firth) was apparently shot dead at the end of the first chapter. He is called to duty by Merlin (played again by Mark Strong) to stop a new global organization that has been systematically laying waste to Kingsman members.

The group is called The Golden Circle and is led by drug kingpin Poppy Adams (played by Julianne Moore, who never really nails the straight-faced silliness the role requires) who supplies the globe with all forms of illegal narcotics. She has contaminated all users with a deadly toxin and will supply the antidote only if the War on Drugs is brought to an end.

The diminishing number of British agents after the cartel wipes out the majority leads Eggsy and Merlin to the States, where they combine forces with American counterparts, played by Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry. But don't hang your hopes on their screen time, as their minutes barely hit the double digits.

For the majority of the time it works, but at almost 2.5 hours, there are far too many such scenes packed in the picture, which lingers on far longer than it needs to. Even Sir Elton John's campy cameo drags on for unnecessary encores, despite its appreciated absurdity. By the time the film hopscotches to its eighth or ninth location, in Italy (in the Dolomite range, perhaps?), "Golden Circle" has made more loops than it needs to and the visual gymnastics, though sometimes impressive, have pummeled viewers into submission.

That said, the leads are engaging enough to merit another outing with the gang. Let's just hope there are fewer "Country Roads" to travel next time.