One of the strengths of the original Kingsman was its ability to repeatedly surprise you. Its repeated bait-and-switches, trope subversions and straight-up tonal dissonance left a big impact (and a lot of fun to introduce people to).
The problem with such movies, though, is that once the expectations are defied, they become the new expectations. The creative team behind The Golden Circle faced a choice: follow the form of the movie by delivering more of the same, or somehow smash through the expectations set in the first movie.
While I was hoping for the latter, it proved to be a bridge too far. It mostly delivers on the former, tough at times it takes mandatory sequel escalation much too far — especially with the waaaaaay overdone technology employed by the villain.
As for that villain, she’s about as quirky as last time, but has the misfortune of having to follow Samuel L. Jackson’s performance.
While The Golden Circle brings back a ton of characters and sets from Kingsman, (with some surprising developments between the two movies) it criminally underused most of them. For the most part, it was “hey, do your continuity cameo and then get the hell out.”
I suppose that’s the big problem with the movie; the first Kingsman took its time building up the plot and the characters. The whole movie has an uncomfortably fast pacing to it, as though it just wants to be done with things already. It skips most of the humor (mostly opting for strange instead of funny) and often doesn’t even give the drama time to land.
One luxury The Golden Circle does allow itself in what is now officially a series staple is not one but two action scenes shot with a flowing camera in a long, continuous take. While they probably won’t become as iconic as the church fight in Kingsman, I can’t get enough of them. They’re such a breath of fresh air in a time when action movies refuse to show you the action by trading honest-to-goodness choreography for shaking the camera and making a zillion jump cuts.
The Golden Circle did offer a couple of surprises: an actual utilitarian ethical quandary and a “hate the sin, love the sinner” message on drug users. As in, it was anti-drug and pro-user. Sounds awkward on paper, but it plays out smoothly.
Verdict: Go for it (4/5). The first movie casts a long shadow, but it’s still a fun time.
…and every moment with Elton John in it is amazing.