Slightly less pro-death than Kingsman: The Secret Service, this sequel has at least a few other things working in its favor: an amusing, extended cameo from Channing Tatum, fairly fun villainy from Julianne Moore, and a more comfortable lead performance from Taron Egerton as a millennial pleb turned old-fashioned James Bond. And yet, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is still a terrible, terrible movie.
As before, the chaotic action is propped up by flat, CGI trickery, so that nothing we see feels of any real-world consequence. Colin Firth returns in a needlessly complicated amnesia subplot (to which is added another needlessly complicated subplot about a possible double agent). Oh, and Elton John appears for a decidedly un-amusing cameo that goes on so long it essentially amounts to a supporting part.
Most of all, however, The Golden Circle still revels in the nihilism that has become a trademark of director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Kick-Ass). Mostly this pertains to the violence, but it also applies to the series’ politics. This is the second film in which the megalomaniacal antagonist espouses an extreme version of a “liberal agenda.” In The Secret Service the cause was environmentalism; in this case it’s the global decriminalization of drugs. Does The Golden Circle present such a notion as a form of villainy? Of ironic heroism? Judging by how things proceed, the movie doesn’t really care either way, as long as there’s a pop song to be played and bodies to be unconvincingly sliced in half.
The nadir for The Golden Circle, however, is a throwaway bit that nonetheless reveals the predatory callousness that lies at the rotten heart of this series. In order to monitor a female suspect (Poppy Delevingne), Eggsy (Egerton) is given what looks like a finger condom and told that a tracking device is on the tip. For it to work, he must touch “mucous membrane.” This is all played for giggles, and a few edits later Vaughn delivers a low-angle shot of the target from behind, effectively implying that Eggsy’s finger is on its way, whether she likes it or not. The Golden Circle also features Bruce Greenwood as an American president with shades of Trump, and when I described this finger condom bit to my wife she noted that it sounded like something the alleged sexual-assaulter-in-chief would find amusing. Perhaps that’s the better title here: Kingsman: Grab ‘Em by the P!$#@.