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2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a surprise hit when it opened. A love letter to the James Bond films in many ways, the film found an audience who was hungry for a film that was just balls to the walls fun, funny, and had a tad bit of heart. Director Matthew Vaughn had lightning in a bottle with the first film, down to the script and the cast, so it’s hard to expect a sequel that can match the quality of the first. But with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Vaughn’s second film in the Kingsman series, we’ve gotten the rare sequel that while not as good as the first, still ends up being a damn fine entry in its own right. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fast paced, kinetic, and over the top sequel that, while not quite as focused as the first, still finds the energy that made the first special to be a worthy companion to Kingsman: The Secret Service. 

Within the film’s opening moments, you know exactly what you’re in for, as Vaughn starts the film with a bang, as he puts the audience right into a car chase through London, as Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is attacked outside Kingsman. From there, the film is off and running at an almost breakneck pace, never really giving the audience a chance to stop and breathe. It’s that breakneck pacing that is a bit of detriment for the film though, as unlike the first, it really doesn’t have enough time to really soak in the story and the characters. The first takes its time to ramp up to the insanity of the third act, but this film puts its foot to the pedal out the gate, creating a whirlwind of chaos for the audience.

Luckily, the film’s plot isn’t hard too hard to follow in any way, as Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) head to America when the Kingsman are destroyed by an outside enemy. All signs point to Poppy (Julianne Moore), an eccentric drug dealer who has an obsession with 1950s Americana and robots. Running low on options, Eggsy and Merlin must team with their American counterparts, the Statesman, to try and track down Poppy. But what the remaining Kingsman duo soon discover changes things completely, when they discover that Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is actually alive in America. With a global pandemic quickly threatening the free world, Eggsy, Merlin, and Harry must band together with the Statesman to stop Poppy before it’s too late.

This is all pretty standard spy fare, and for this film, that’s what it needs to be. Kingsman: The Golden Circle really harkens back to the last few years of Roger Moore’s time as Bond, going for an all out, over the top approach to the material. The film wisely never takes itself too seriously, and really, it’s even cheesier than the first in a lot of ways. For some, they’re going to find that enduring, while others may find that it leans too far on the humor and the over the top action compared to the first. This film is the definition of a sequel going bigger, but at the same time, it’s also never trying to top the first film. While the action in the first is what really left a mark, especially the church scene, this film never tries to recreate or top that scene. Instead, Vaughn goes in a completely different direction with the action scenes. Each action scene is fun, new, and exciting compared to the first, which makes it seem fresh and fun. And there’s a lot of action too, as the sequel goes all out putting a lot more action at the forefront than the first. This will please action fans, but at times it almost feels a bit too much as it takes away from the film’s story and characters.

The truth is, while the action and the humor are great, the reason that Kingsman: The Secret Service worked so well was the characters. Thankfully, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has some great character work for returning stars Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong. Egerton and Firth in particular get the most emotional heft of the film with the return of Harry, and what it means for Eggsy. The film is at its best when it focuses on their relationship, and the circumstances around Harry’s unexpected return into Eggsy’s life. There’s just a really wonderful bond between Egerton and Firth throughout the film that really makes their scenes that much more poignant, fun, and heartbreaking all at once. It’s a really balancing act, but Vaughn manages it splendidly, really giving these characters the film’s best arc.

The only real bummed is that much of the new cast isn’t given a whole lot to do here. Channing Tatum especially almost feels wasted, which is really too bad because he’s really proven to be one of the most entertaining actors working in Hollywood right now. His character, Tequila, has a few great moments, but is then ushered out of the film almost as quick as he came. Halle Berry as well is good as the Statesman version of Merlin, aptly named Ginger, who is fun, but also really leaves little lasting impression on the film. Jeff Bridges fairs better as Champ, the head of Statesman, because frankly, he’s Jeff Bridges. Whenever he pops up in things, he’s incredibly entertaining, and he’s a joy to watch in this film. But the standout in the new cast is Pedo Pascal, who is really fantastic as Whisky. His character is incredibly badass, while also a quick talker, and he uses a whip in a way that would put Indiana Jones to shame. It’s a real star making performance, and for those not watching Narcos, it’ll definitely put Pascal on their radar. Finally, it must be said that Julianne Moore is deliciously cheesy and wonderful as the villain Poppy, but man, is it almost like she’s in an Austin Powers film. She just hams up the screen left and right, but it’s hard not to totally love the character at the same time. Her character could really divide audiences, but her sweet talking, over the top nature is certainly an ode to some of the more over the top Bond villains, and for that she succeeds.

The biggest problem with Kingman: The Golden Circle really is that it goes so much bigger than the first, that it loses some of the smaller moments that made the first work. It’s not hugely detrimental, however, it would have been nice to see the film scale back a bit to let the narrative and the characters breathe. There was some great moments with Eggsy’s mum in the first film that are pretty much nonexistent here. While they do try to give Eggsy some personal side with his new girlfriend, Princess Tilda (Hanna Alström, returning from the first film), it’s more used for plot than anything else. It would have been nice had Tilda had more to do, making her a more emotionally grounded character that the film lacked. This all really comes down to the fact that the film opens and just goes from broke within the opening minutes, going from zero to three hundred miles per hour in a matter of seconds, before ending at a whomping twelve hundred miles per hour. This film is fast, furious, and fun, but it lacks a little bit of that character work that really grounded the first.

Even with the smaller issues aside, Kingman: The Golden Circle is a very worthy and fun follow up to the first film. Taron Egerton really carries the film and shows why he’s destined to be a famous leading man. He and Firth truly steal the film together, though Pedro Pascal is no slouch either, as he gets quite a bit to do. The film is full of action, humor, and has a bit of heart, but the breakneck pacing of the film becomes an issue when many of the characters suffer for it. Still, it’s not a bad follow up in its own right, and it’ll pair nicely with Kingsman: The Secret Service as a fun companion film. Of course, the film also leaves on a note that this may not be the end of the Kingsman franchise. Here’s hoping that’s the case, because there’s definitely mileage left in this franchise, and it would be a pleasure to revisit these characters again. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is definitely some of the most fun you’ll have in a theater all year, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the fun.