On general release

This sequel to the critically and commercially acclaimed spy adventure Kingsman: The Secret Service opens with an action-packed sequence that mirrors the high-octane tone of its predecessor’s climax. The audience is instantly thrust into an intricately choreographed, effects-laden fight between working-class spy protagonist Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and vengeful former Kingsman trainee Charlie (Edward Holcroft). The staging of this sequence, like many in this franchise pays homage to the Connery and Moore Bond films. In particular, the climax involving Eggsy using his gadget-filled black cab to make an aquatic escape is borrowed directly from The Spy Who Loved Me.

Returning director Vaughn ensures that the rest of the film’s action is of a similar high quality. These sequences vary from a ski resort pursuit involving an out of control cable car to a barroom fight between lasso-wielding Statesman agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and a gang of rednecks that acts as a clever subversion of Colin Firth’s pub brawl in the first film. Similarly, the creative art direction and production design by Darren Gilford results in sets that are visually unique in comparison to the more standardised equivalents seen in the majority of Hollywood blockbusters today. The whisky bottle-shaped headquarters of Kingsman’s American counterpart Statesman and the garish, 50’s diner aesthetic of drug baroness villain Poppy’s Cambodia lair ‘PoppyLand’ are as creative as any Bond villain’s and add to the lurid, stylised and bombastic nature of the film.

However, the script, written once again by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, suffers from an excess amount of subplots and a tendency to reuse narrative elements from the previous film. The most notable example of this involves the resurrection of Firth’s mentor Harry, previously presumed dead. This plot development not only uses up screen time re-establishing his character and reiterating key moments from the previous film, but also sidelines Eggsy’s relationship with Scottish Q-equivalent Merlin (Mark Strong) and Poppy (Julianne Moore), who is provided with a reduced role compared with Samuel L. Jackson’s eccentric villain Valentine.

The script is also filled with characteristic moments of grotesque comic violence and laddish sexual humour.  This brand of comedy was used sparingly to good effect in the first film, however, its inclusion here feels somewhat excessive and gratuitous, as if Vaughn and Goldman were intent on one-upping each other in a contest of vulgarity.

The performances are all of a high standard, with Egerton, Firth and Strong slipping back into their characters with little effort. Strong even has a chance to show off his fine singing voice with a climactic rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads“. The American newcomers also provide good support, with  Pascal providing Whiskey with a cocksure charm that conceals some later (poorly written) character development and Moore hamming it up with glee as Poppy.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is at its best when directly tapping into the audience’s desire for the dazzling action sequences, intricate gadgetry and lavish sets that used to be part-and-parcel of the now-self conscious Bond series. However, Vaughn’s commitment to Bond-style excess results in a sequel that feels overstuffed and uncreative, with the few unique elements that stand out dwarfed by the apparent need to conform to perceived audience expectations.