Film Review: ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ – Variety
As if the original “Kingsman” weren’t cartoony enough, with its blade-legged lady assassin and gratuitous exploding-heads finale, the sequel has gone and pushed the franchise’s cheeky brand of absurdity even farther. The goofiness begins with the resurrection of two important characters, whose unequivocal deaths we witnessed in the first movie. First, there’s Charlie, a rival secret-service recruit played by Edward Holcroft, who lost his head in that notorious fireworks montage, now back with a bionic arm and a new boss (more on that in a minute). And then there’s Colin Firth’s character, impeccably dressed spy-master Harry Hart, who took a point-blank bullet to the eye — and here lives to tell about it.
Firth was the second-best thing about the 2015 scally-spy movie, a super-stylized surprise hit from “Kick-Ass” director Matthew Vaughn that racked up a cool $414 million worldwide, and Harry Hart’s death was a loss. But his return is a cheat, and it basically erases any sense of peril in “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” which begins with a demented new villain named Poppy (Julianne Moore, all smiles) blowing up all but two of the old Kingsman clan.
Are they really dead? Well, the geo-targeted missiles certainly look accurate, but if Harry Hart can walk away from a fatal head wound — and if Charlie can survive losing his head altogether — don’t be surprised to see any or all of them resurface in a sequel. Later, when a major character blows himself up in their honor, not only does that gesture seem like a waste (you want to tell him to wait, since Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman will surely find a way to bring them back, especially right-hand woman Roxy), but it also raises the question of whether he’s really gone.
Basically, Vaughn is playing with gravity here: When you change the fundamental rules of action-movie storytelling as radically as the “Kingsman” series does, then these adventures may as well be taking place on the moon, where a normal human can jump tall buildings. It blurs the stakes and makes it impossible to know what, if anything, the risks of operating in such an otherwise-lethal world are.
Same goes for Harry’s “retrograde amnesia”: He may not be dead, but he’s forgotten who he is, remembering only his youthful ambition to be a lepidopterist (or butterfly collector). Now his minders — Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum, cashing paychecks to play members of Kingsman’s yankee counterpart, Statesman — need to recreate a past shock or trauma to “reboot” his brain. Did the movie need to kill off nearly everyone (except Mark Strong’s Merlin, who’s still there to provide tactical support) simply to introduce Statesman, which operates behind the cover of a successful whiskey brand, as opposed to Kingsman’s posh Saville Row suit shop (the costumes are tip-top, as always).
So, if Harry’s the second-best thing about “Kingsman,” what’s the first, you ask? Well, that would be Eggsy himself, as played by model-handsome Welsh actor Taron Egerton, whose jawline is so sharp you could practically chop wood with it. He’s not terribly convincing as an action hero, and even less so in dramatic scenes, but he sure is purty to look at. While not shy on carnage, the earlier “Kingsman” focused on Eggsy’s transformation from a streetwise hood into a dapper young super-spy — basically, the movie was “My Fair Lady” meets James Bond, as Eggsy learned to dress smart, talk properly and save the world, taking his shirt off just often enough to remind what the movie was really selling.