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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

(MA15+) ★★★

Director: Matthew Vaughn.

Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Edward Holcroft, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Halle Berry, Elton John, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Poppy Delevingne, Bruce Greenwood, Emily Watson.

Jason Bourne wouldn't be caught dead in orange.
Bursting onto our screens in a blast of blood and bad language back in 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a stylish if frivolous divergence.

It was also a welcome counter-operation in the serious world of spy movies - amid the Bonds and Bournes, the exploits of Eggsy (Egerton) and Harry (Firth) were a burst of firework fun in the face of an increasingly gritty genre.

Not much has changed for the second outing of Eggsy and co. "Having a good time" is still the central motif, even if its at the expense of the film's ability to find any depth.

After proving his worth, saving the world, and getting the girl in the first film, Eggsy is riding high as the hard-doer-turned-super-spy - that is until an old rival returns to wreak havoc. But that's the least of his worries. A drug dealer named Poppy Adams (Moore) is on the scene, and Eggsy and Merlin (Strong) must turn to their American counterparts - the Statesman - to save the world (again) from her diabolical scheme.

The things that worked best in The Secret Service are the elements that shine in The Golden Circle - the hyper-stylised and crazily edited fight sequences, the ridiculous gadgets and set pieces, and the blood-and-bollocks attitude of it all. Having Firth back helps, Moore is a deliciously bonkers if under-used baddie, and Elton John (playing Elton John) gets some truly great moments.

It's a shame that the plotting falls down in the final stretch - unless I missed something, I have no idea how the good guys uncovered the bad guys' secret lair. There is also a half-hearted attempt to make a comment on the war on drugs, but the film can't decide what it wants to say, and then chickens out of saying anything anyway, and the whole thing plays a little loose with cause and effect and the secrecy of its secret services. Its regularly OTT tone also means the film struggles to sell its emotional crescendos, leaving a certain emptiness amid the fun.

There are plenty of interesting and enjoyable moments though. The opening car chase, the final raid on Poppy's hidden (and overly CG) hide-out, and a very Bondian diversion to a mountain-top lab are good fun and showcase Vaughn's stylistic flair. The subplots involving Eggsy's relationship with Princess Tilde have potential until they get lost amid the espionage and gunplay, while a detour to the Glastonbury Festival yields intriguing results (and a line of dialogue that is this film's equivalent of the bizarre "bum note" the previous movie ended on).

The cast all acquit themselves well (even if some of them - Tatum, Bridges, and Moore in particular - are under-used) and the whole thing is fun, and that's the main point of all this. While The Golden Circle lacks the wow factor of the original (Firth-in-a-church and the head-popping fireworks linger long in the memory), it still has a similar capacity to entertain, even if it's not as structurally solid as its predecessor.

If you're willing to overlook some of its dim-witted and nonsensical moments, this is a solid-enough return that doesn't totally disappoint and leaves enough goodwill (and room for improvement) for a third outing.

*Thanks to my amazing wife for helping type this review up while I recover from a lame journalism-related injury.

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