A year on from preventing Samuel L. Jackson's plan to wipe out the majority of the world's population using mania-inducing SIM cards, and Eggsy (Taron Egerton) has settled well within the ranks of the Kingsman and has shacked up with Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alstrom). One night he is attacked by a former foe he had long thought dead: Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), the failed Kingsman applicant believed to have perished in the head-exploding finale of the previous film. Charlie is alive and well, and has been fitted with a hi-tech bionic arm capable of brute strength. Eggsy manages to overcome Charlie, but the severed arm hacks its way into the Kingsman's computer system. Soon enough, the majority of Britain's finest secret service has been taken out by long-range missiles. Along with Merlin (Mark Strong), Eggsy travels to the U.S. to investigate a clue left in the agency's Doomsday protocol, and discover a sister agency named the Statesman led by the gruff Champagne (Jeff Daniels).
The Statesman are like the Kingsman, only instead of bespoke suits and good table manners, they dress like cowboys and have nicknames based on alcoholic beverages. Channing Tatum's Tequila is first to greet them, and is understandably suspicious of this shadowy agency operating without their knowledge. There's also Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Merlin-equivalent tech genius Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). The bad guy this time around is Poppy (Julianne Moore), a Martha Stewart-like drug baron hiding out in Cambodia. Her master plan is to infect all users of her various drugs with a toxin that will soon cause their deaths unless the U.S. President puts an end to the War on Drugs. Poppy's outlandish plan, which would seem to damage Poppy's trade if successful or offer the President a chance to rid the world of drug abusers and Poppy's customers, is one of many problems with The Golden Circle. Armed with robot dogs and a kidnapped Elton John in an appearance that goes way beyond mere cameo, Vaughn and Goldman seem happy to suck out all sense of reality for this sequel, and with it have considerably lowered the stakes.
The movie's most glaring problem, however, is the return of Colin Firth's Harry Hart. Most of us were shocked and saddened when he received a bullet to the face from Samuel L. Jackson following the original's most spectacular scene, but to bring him back feels cheap, removing any sense of peril in the process. The action scenes, which involve everything from an electric whip to a man-chomping meat-grinder, rely heavily on CGI. The Secret Service did this too, but it also used practical effects to retain a sense of physicality when Harry was hacking, shooting and burning his way through a Church full of bigoted psychopaths. The newcomers all do well despite being left in the background for the majority of the running-time, with Tatum especially barely registering before he is placed into a coma. Highlights include Egerton's beautiful jaw-line and Strong's deadpan Merlin, but there is little resembling the freshness of the first film, which also managed to keep its outrageous ambitions in check by structuring the plot around Eggsy's Kingsman training. The Golden Circle is by no means the disaster many critics have cited, but by striding to take things to the next level, Vaughn has made Kingsman both cringe-inducingly silly and plain boring.
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges