– by Joseph Jammer Medina

2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service is a film that will forever stand as the biggest surprise of its year. Upon checking out the trailers for the movie, it came across to me as some cheesy YA flick, and despite Matthew Vaughn being at the helm, I didn’t foresee myself digging it all too much.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The film still stands as one of my favorites of all time. From its irreverent sense of humor to its over-the-top violence and cartoony visuals, it stood out as an incredibly fun and unique spy movie. And I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed this. By virtue of its word of mouth, the film managed to lock down enough of a box office haul to warrant a sequel. But of course, going into Kingsman: The Golden Circle, it was bound to be hampered by the success of its predecessor. It’s nearly impossible to live up to the expectations of a first film when that first film was such an unexpected hit. While Kingsman: The Golden Circle does succeed on many levels, it ultimately does fall victim to that very problem.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle picks up about a year after the events in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and both Eggsy and Roxy are now fully-fledged members of the spy organization, now led by Michael Gambon. Sadly, Kingsman’s existence as a whole entity is short-lived, and an attack from the megalomaniacal Poppy (Julianne Moore) leads to the destruction of Kingsman HQ, leaving Eggsy and co. as the sole surviving members.

Heeding their organization’s Doomsday Protocol, the remaining Kingsman agents find themselves in the state of Kentucky at a sister organization called Statesman. With their resources at their disposal, they set to work figuring out what Poppy is up to, and how they can put an end to her devious schemes.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a film that thrived on its hyper-violent action, and with director Matthew Vaughn back for this sequel, it’s an aspect they dial up to 11. If you thought the first movie was ridiculous, then you’d best prepare yourself, because they really amp up the cartoonier aspects of that first film. From the mechanical watchdogs that Poppy keeps in her lair (fittingly named Poppyland) to her familiar sidekick with a mechanical arm and the involvement of one pop superstar, The Golden Circle really shows the creative minds of both Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman.

Another great aspect of the film lies in its villain. While Poppy is no Valentine, she still manages to be an interesting and fun-to-watch baddie. Her chilling Stepford Wife-ian personality and her tendency to grind up her own henchmen at the drop of a hat (and I mean literally grind them up in a meat grinder) make her a force to be reckoned with, and you can tell that Moore was having a great time bringing this character to life.

While she definitely falls squarely into the mustache-twirly territory, given the tone of the flick, it manages to suit it pretty well. That being said, there is also something to her ultimate plan. I won’t spoil what her ultimate goal is, but like Valentine’s goal in the first movie, it managed to get me thinking “yeah, this person is crazy, but I can kind of see where they’re coming from.”

Finally, the Statesman shine as a worthy sister organization. Both Channing Tatum and Pedro Pascal go all out as agents Tequila and Whiskey, and seeing large swaths of Americana getting plastered on the screen is good fun to watch.

However, Kingsman: The Golden Circle isn’t without its flaws. Part of what made the first film rewarding was seeing the growth of Eggsy, who goes from a goldhearted street thug to a world-class spy. With this film, Eggsy is already a fully realized character, and apart from his surprisingly faithful relationship with Princess Tilde (which is a nice touch in a genre that usually boasts womanizing hit-it-and-quit-it leads), there is very little room for him too grow. He’s a bit too perfect, and as a result, the film ends up feeling a bit hollow.

Plus, we also have to talk about Colin Firth’s return as Harry. It’s by no means a bad move to do what the film does with him (which I won’t spoil), but I couldn’t shake being a little underwhelmed with where they took his character. Again, it wasn’t bad, but compared to what he brought to the table in the first film, it felt a tad false this second time around.

The Golden Circle also committed a sin in underutilizing its stellar cast. Two such characters are Channing Tatum’s Tequila and Sophie Cookson’s Roxy. The former had the potential to be a real wild card, and he does great with the few minutes he has, but he is ultimately relegated to the sidelines. The latter is a character who was a breath of fresh air in that she and Eggsy had a platonic relationship in the first movie. The fact that they don’t give her more to do is definitely disappointing, especially considering she was the only female Kingsman in the last film.

It’s final big flaw in my eyes lies in the good amount of callbacks and retconning. In the interest of world-building, there are some aspects of the first film that are reinterpreted to help set the stage for this film. It’s done about as well as it can be done, but whenever a film goes to such lengths to tie things together, it’s hard for it not to come across as a bit cheesy. This also arises whenever characters make callbacks to specific lines in the first film. It’s not horrible, but did pull me out of the movie.

So what’s the verdict here? I imagine that if you’re a fan of the first film, you’ll find a lot to like here. As I mentioned, they dial up some of the film’s best aspects up, and end up capturing a lot of what worked. However, don’t go into this film expecting it to live up to that first one. Due to the surprising quality of that movie, I expect a lot of moviegoers could be disappointed in this sequel, despite how solid it is. With that in mind, I think it’s important to point out that while this movie isn’t as good as the first one, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good film in its own right.

So when all said and done, if you liked the first one, I highly recommend you go into Kingsman: The Golden Circle — albeit with tempered expectations. It’s a fun ride, but one that can’t help but feel just a little bit hollow.

Grade: B-

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.