Kingsman: The Golden Circle comes out swinging. The movie literally punches the gas and zips from zero to 100 kilometers per hour in its opening minute, with an intense and brilliantly crafted chase down London streets. There are many more swings that follow throughout the sequel's 141-minute runtime, but not all of them are as successful as that opening number.
The core characters of Kingsman: The Secret Service return for the sequel. Taron Egerton has truly adopted Eggsy's suave and stylish persona; his role this time around calls for a more personal character arc, as Eggsy is forced to balance world-saving responsibilities with a social life that includes a recent marriage. Refreshingly, Mark Strong's Merlin has a beefed-up role, since a diminished lineup of Kingsman forces the character to step up and aid Eggsy against Julianne Moore's extremely villainous, yet still adorable, Poppy. The Golden Circle also brings Colin Firth's Harry Hart back into the mix, undoing a major death from the original film with a surprisingly organic (if not totally acceptable) resurrection of the character.
However, it's a newcomer who steals the film. Pedro Pascal, known best for Game of Thrones and Narcos, is the highlight of Golden Circle as Agent Whiskey. In a very Burt Reynolds-inspired role, Whiskey whips, lassos, and shoots his way to becoming the truest star of the film. The same won't be said for Halle Berry or Channing Tatum, whose characters were mostly placeholders, clearly poised for better use in a possible third installment.
Outrageous attempts at injecting humor into the film stalled much of The Golden Circle's second act, including an excessive subplot in which Elton John is held hostage --which would have been funnier if lessened -- and a sequence which called for implanting a probe in a target's genitals. It's comedic enough for some, and already pushing boundaries of what might be acceptable for others, but at times, things definitely get taken too far.
The Golden Circle follows the same ridiculous and larger-than-life beats of the original, but pushes it even further than plausible, sometimes bordering on Austin Powers-style parody. For the most part, though, its experiments with humor land, and the film is in no way shy, scared, or filtered. Blunt jabs at the current political climate are not the farthest director Matthew Vaughn is willing to go, and will hardly be the most memorable (or jaw-dropping) moments of the film.
The final act of The Golden Circle is a non-stop romp featuring the best use of Elton John's music. While the film never manages to top the unforgettable church sequence from its predecessor, it does command attention and steady laughs throughout. A couple touches of surprising emotion early and later on give the sequel what it needs to be worthwhile, assuming moviegoers can leave logic at the door and really just have a good time with the most outrageous film of the year, and the most stylish. While it won't be setting new trends at the movies, it is certainly worth the price of admission.
Bottom Line: Kingsman: The Golden Circle falls short of its predecessor but is a worthy sequel loaded with epic action sequences, outrageous comedy, and the best style in theaters. 3 out of 5 stars.