Kingsman Royale (Movie Review)

2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a sleeper hit that reveled in being a Roger Moore-era Bond flick wrapped in modern sensibilities and kinetic, R-rated violence. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is less successful because it feels more like an attempt to hold onto what emotional strengths worked the first time around. Perhaps if this movie came after a more standalone second entry, the connection could have felt more beneficial. Regardless, there is still a lot of good fun to have in a film that serves as a globetrotting spy movie homage, complete with gadgets, robodogs, and a maniacal villain holding the world hostage.

Like the first film, The Golden Circle was inspired by a comic book series created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. This movie once again features Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the brash but good-natured young man who became a Kingsman secret agent last time around, after saving the world. The Golden Circle forces him to go through that sort of ordeal again, following the destruction of Kingsman’s headquarters leaving only Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) to figure out who’s behind this. They will not go without help, however, as the Kingsman learns of their American counterpart, Statesman. This group is headed by Jeff Bridges’ Champaign and features secret agents such as Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). There’s also the shocking discovery of a still-alive Harry (Colin Firth), who may also be able to bring some skill to the table.

Apologies if the mention of a thought-to-be-dead Harry is a spoiler for you, but since the marketing (trailers, posters, etc.) don’t feel like hiding it, I’m not sure I need to. I’ll spare the details of how this could occur, but it does lead to a sore spot in the film. Part of the strength of the first film was how unflinching it was in matching its cartoonish violence with some shocking turns. Harry’s death was a big part of that. If this movie wanted to bring Firth back, that’s all well and good, but I wish it found a way to do so without making it a primary function of the story.

However, this is a tricky aspect that maybe does allow credit to go to the marketing, as I was at least prepared to have to look over the annoyance of this film sidelining the emotional impact of a significant death the first time around. One could also argue that in being a riff on ridiculous spy movies, it is fitting to have to make such a leap in logic. In exchange, however, we do get some other returning elements that blend a fun sense of how sequels can handle being more of what an audience liked and spirited jabs at its critics.

A somehow controversial gag that ended the first film, which seemed to clearly model itself on how a typical Bond movie would end, only taken to the extreme, gets a reprise this time around in a way that shows actual character growth. Rather than make Eggsy some sort of secret agent ladies’ man, he finds himself in a committed relationship with Hanna Alstrom’s Princess Tilde. This is even challenged midway in the film by subverting how Bond would handle his latest conquest and making Eggsy feel incredibly guilty, despite his attempts to explain what is required of him beforehand.

This is the kind of detail that makes me appreciate what writer/director Matthew Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman can bring to their projects. With films such as Stardust and Kick-Ass in their catalog, they no doubt love and understand the dark humor and certain extremes that can be found in graphic novels, but they also do not forget to root these aspects in the characters we are following. Nic Cage’s Big Daddy character is over-the-top to the point of Cage using an Adam West accent. He’s also a loving father sharing a sad death scene with the child he wanted to protect. The first Kingsman finds time to deliver on those qualities. The Golden Circle does as well but seems looser in tone.

The biggest issue is the length. This may be an over-the-top spy adventure, but it’s also way too long. It is fun to see this ensemble cast made up of big stars having a blast together, but there is a tipping point in just how much we can appreciate a sequel trying to be bigger and better. Again, a lot of that comes down to how the film chooses to bring back Firth, as it’s material that could have frankly been saved for another movie, doubling down the focus on our villain instead (and whatever other adversaries come to play).

Samuel L. Jackson was a delight in Kingsman, bringing the sort of effort he reserves for his more memorable performances. Julianne Moore serves as the big bad in The Golden Circle. She’s a Martha Stewart type in spirit and presentation, except no one knows who she is because she lives isolated from the world as the most successful drug dealer with an agenda of her own. While more like stunt casting than anything else (Moore could have filmed all of her scenes in a couple of days from the looks of it), the performance is strong enough to leave an impression and the film also finds time to make a few socially conscious points.

As an action film, The Golden Circle does deliver a lot to enjoy. I would hesitate to say the film has an action sequence as wildly bonkers as the church scene in the first movie (though the opening car chase is pretty great), but this film does manage to increase the quantity of elaborate gun/fist fight sequences. I would have enjoyed more of interactions with the Statesman (Tatum only feels briefly featured) over extended action scenes that drag the film over the 140-minute mark, but it is plenty satisfying to see the properness of the Kingsman fighting alongside the more rough-and-tumble qualities of their American friends.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle delivers on being big, explosive fun, but it’s a shame it feels held back by crowding itself with so many potentially great ideas. It’s as if there was worry that just a few of these elements wouldn’t be enough to get to a third film that could have shared all of these concepts. Regardless, if it’s a fun spy-action movie with some occasional comedy you are looking for, this film mostly satisfies in the same way the first entry did. It’s a little too long and lacks a bit in truly standout moments, but there’s enough to keep you coming back to this wild tailor shop.

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