The first Kingsman movie was a rather bonkers movie that works best if you try not to think about it too much or else you notice things like how much the unaffiliated spy agency in the title is all about a bunch of rich white guys secretly knowing what’s best for everyone and how elected officials are often really only interested in selling everyone out to protect their own asses.
But it was a hit, and now there’s a sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
Here’s the thing: if you didn’t really like the first one, this second one will not be for you. It’s a weaker entry that spends perhaps far too much time dealing with the romance between Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and the Swedish princess he rescued at the end of the first film. Yes, those two are still an item. She also hangs out with his longtime friends in his old neighborhood, so let’s not go too far into the logistics of that relationship. But when a rogue rejected recruit comes back for revenge, he brings with him his new boss Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a drug kingpin with a wild plan to blackmail the world into legalizing drugs so she can come out of her jungle hideaway and live as a respectable businessperson.
Between this and the first movie’s environment-based plot, the bad guys in these movies sure have interesting social consciences.
In the meantime, an attack leaves Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) as the only Kingsmen left, forcing the pair to go to the emergency plan that they eventually figure out will lead them to Kentucky, where the American version of their originization works out of a whiskey distillery. There the agents have drink-based code names and include the likes of brash showboat Tequila (Channing Tatum in what amounts to an extended cameo), tech expert Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), electrified-lasso user and wannabe ladies man Whiskey (Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal), and their boss Champagne, but you can call him Champ (Jeff Bridges, obviously). They even reunite with a surprisingly alive Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Now the two agencies will need to work together to stop a drug kingpin with a fondness for 50s nostalgia (which even she knows is nostalgia for nostalgia) and kidnapping British pop stars (Elton John as himself).
As a result, there’s an attempt to recreate what amounted to magic from the original. There’s nothing really like the church scene from the first, but instead director Matthew Vaughn brings in everything but the kitchen sink involving cybernetic arms, robotic attack dogs, an American president who doesn’t seem to care about much of anything (nothing new in this series since the first implied Barack Obama went along with the bad guy plot and then had his head explode) but at least this time is a completely fictional character, and lots of destructive but weird gadgets. It’s also the second movie I’ve seen this summer to use John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road” song, but the other one–also with Tatum–did so much more effectively. Wandering even further away from the source material, this is just a really weird action movie. It’ll please the original’s fans, but probably not anyone else. Seven and a half out of ten Elton John action scenes.