Sequels are a difficult business, and everybody knows it. They're even harder to execute when your first time out was such a surprise success, much like director Matthew Vaughn's Kingsman: The Secret Service was back in 2015. So here we are, with a new outing of a franchise that loves to wink and nod towards the cheekier side of James Bond's legacy, waiting for folks to determine whether this is a franchise worth building on, or something that needs to end rather quickly. Thankfully, I can say that Kingsman: The Golden Circle keeps the action cranked, the laughs fresh, and even injects more confidence into its proceedings, making for what Eggsy (Taron Egerton) himself might call a fucking proper blast.
One year after the events of Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy (Taren Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) are thrown into the deep end, as someone has eliminated the rest of their fellow Kingsman agents. Following the Doomsday protocol, they hook up with the Statesman agency -- American counterparts who fancy a good whiskey and Southern hospitality. Together, they'll embark on a mission to stop a crazed drug lord (Julianne Moore) with some nasty plans to make herself known to the world.
There's a fair bit of repetition in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, as moments and scenarios from the first film are brought up, and sometimes relived with a slight variance in tow. For the most part, this doesn't kill the film's vibe, however it does give a bit of an air of "been there, done that" to some of the film's elements. That said, the humor of Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Mark Millar's Secret Service comic is still very much intact. Even if we've seen some of this before, it's nice to be with characters that we grew to love in the original film.
It's even nicer to see that, especially in the case of Eggsy, the characters from Kingsman: The Secret Service have developed into even stronger identities this time around. Even Mark Strong's Merlin gets to have some fun, as his first field mission puts him right alongside Eggsy, and you can tell that Strong and his character are having a blast. But, of course, Kingsman: The Golden Circle isn't totally about revisiting old friends, as some new characters have entered the ring, as well.
The Statesman organization's presence gives us some fun performances from Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Halle Berry; though if there were an MVP for the American side of the action, it'd have to be Pedro Pascal. From the accent right down to the swagger in battle, Pascal's Whiskey (yes, with an 'e') is a rootin' tootin' ass kicker, and he makes it work as the one American agent with the most screen time. Though, to be fair, Tatum, Bridges, and Berry do so well in their bit parts, you kind of want a separate Statesman film to exist, just so they can have more fun on their own.
Of course, this isn't to say that Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a perfect film, as the one major hiccup comes from Julianne Moore's villain, Poppy. It's not that she's a bad antagonist. It's just that she seems a little more hands off than Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine was in Kingsman: The Secret Service. And while her villainy is operating in the background, pushing the plot forward, it would have been nice to see her get a little more action overall. Still, her sweetly evil demeanor is something to be admired, making her moments in the film a lot of fun to watch.
Ultimately, that's what Kingsman: The Golden Circle can be boiled down to: fun. Pure, unadulterated, high-octane fun that retains the laughs of Kingsman: The Secret Service, while amping up the action. The movie starts with a fight / chase scene that lights a fire under this film's ass, and keeps it running all throughout. By time the third act of brawling fun arrives, Vaughn's film has given us characters that are built to last, and action set-pieces that know how to throw punches, as well as carry a fantastic tune. Summer might be over, but Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the type of big-ticket blockbuster we could have used a couple months ago. It's easily one of the most enjoyable sequels / action pictures of the year.