“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” (*** OUT OF ****) is a good action-comedy thriller, but it doesn’t surpass director Matthew Vaughn’s original “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Nevertheless, the sheer audacity of this outrageous sequel makes it worth watching, despite lackluster villains who aren’t as intimidating as Gazelle with her razor-sharp blade-feet and her boss Valentine with the surgically inserted SIM cards in a person’s head that stimulated hostility and suppressed inhibition. Unfortunately, if you missed “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014), you may find many of the story elements in the sequel difficult to follow. Several original cast members reprise their roles, among them newcomer Taron Egerton (slated to star as Robin Hood in “Robin Hood” next year), Colin Firth of “The King’s Speech,” and Mark Strong as Merlin. Matthew Vaughn and “Kick Ass” writer Jane Goldman, who adapted Mark Millar’s graphic novel “The Secret Service,” return respectively as director and writer. Although they don’t scale the sensational heights of the earlier “Kingsman,” they don’t shrink from the task of trying to match it.
In the original “Kingsman,” we learned about a private espionage agency in London, England, created after World War I, which hides behind the dubious facade of a Saville Row clothing emporium named Kingsman. This elite agency is comparable to the classic American television series “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” but its agents not only far better trained, but also dressed immaculately for success. In the first film, after a raid on a terrorist stronghold, Harry Hart, code-named Agent Galahad (Colin Firth) interrogated a villain. The first thing out of the fiendish villain’s mouth was the pin from a grenade. The explosion that ensued would have blown Galahad to bits had his fellow agent Lee (Jonno Davies of “In the Name of Ben Hur”) not intervened to save Harry’s life. Indebted to Lee, Hart provided Lee’s son Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin (Taron Egerton) with a chance years later to compete with other candidates to become a Kingsman agent. In “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” ‘Eggsy’ proved his ingenuity. Sadly, Harry died when Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson of “Pulp Fiction”) shot him in the left eye at close range.
“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” opens with a careening, adrenaline-laced ride through London. The impeccably attired ‘Eggsy’ tangles with his old “Kingsman: The Secret Service” nemesis who initially competed with him to be a Kingsman agent. Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft of “Vampire Academy”) surprises ‘Eggsy’ outside the Kingsman tailor shop. ‘Eggsy’ is shocked to see Charlie, because Charlie’s right arm was obliterated along with his vocal chords. ‘Eggsy’ dives into a cab, and Charlie plunges in after him. Charlie and ‘Eggsy’ clash in a monumental life-and-death struggle. Charlie constitutes a James Bond type villain because he comes equipped with a cybernetic arm. ‘Eggsy’ manages to defeat Charlie and tear off the cybernetic arm. Nevertheless, the arm conceals itself within the cab until the coast is clear and then hacks into the Kingsman server via an onboard computer in the cab. A cataclysmic attack on the Kingsman headquarters ensues that destroys everything and almost everybody. Happily, ‘Eggsy’ and Merlin survive this Armageddon. Director Matthew Vaughn doesn’t let any grass grow under our heroes’ feet during these first two dynamic super-charged, action scenes. Indeed, these over-the-top, larger-than-life exercises in sophisticated violence are worth the price of admission, even if you haven’t seen the original “Kingsman.”
Later, we’re told that Charlie has gone into business with psychotic villainess Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore of “The Big Lebowski”), who ranks as one of the world’s most notorious traffickers in recreational drugs galore. This malevolent Martha Stewart matron conducts her business from a remote corner of Southeast Asia, and she calls her enterprise ‘The Golden Circle.’ Everybody who works for Poppy has a golden circle branded on their anatomy. Poppy doesn’t tolerate any nonsense from her minions. She grinds up one of her treacherous henchmen into a hamburger that she serves to another prospective employee. She decides to hold the entire world for ransom by tainting all her narcotics with a toxin that disfigures the user’s face with blue veins. Eventually, the millions infected will succumb to paralysis followed by torturous death. Poppy offers an antidote if the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood of “Thirteen Days”) will halt the futile War on Drugs and grant immunity to all cartels. Of course, the President refuses. Instead, he hopes the deaths of all recreational drug users will end the War on Drugs. Meantime, ‘Eggsy’ and Merlin follow emergency protocol. They fly to the United States and sit down with their American counterparts at another elite but clandestine secret service agency named Statesman. Located in rural Kentucky, Statesman cloaks their hush-hush activities behind the façade of a whiskey distillery. Champagne (Jeff Bridges of “Iron Man”) presides over Statesman, and he provides ‘Eggsy’ and Merlin with everything necessary to vanquish Poppy. He also assigns his two top agents, Tequila (Channing Tatum of “Magic Mike”) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal of “Narcos”), to aid them.
If you think I’ve told you too much about “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” think again! This synopsis barely scratches the surface of all the outlandish antics in this globe-trotting extravaganza. Clearly, director Matthew Vaughn and scenarist Jane Goldman revere the James Bond blockbusters because they have borrowed characters and predicaments from “Goldfinger,” “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” “Live and Let Die,” and “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Meanwhile, the Statesman agent code-named Whiskey, as portrayed by Pedro Pascal, could pass for Burt Reynolds’s twin brother. Furthermore, Whiskey wields an electric lasso Wonder Woman might have a tough time evading. Miraculously, Harry Hart returns to the fold with an eye patch and accompanies our heroes for a do-or-die assault on Poppy’s headquarters against an army of henchmen as well as two ravenous, robotic canines with stainless steel jaws. “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” amounts to an all-around showcase for gravity-defying stunts and boisterous comedy you won’t forget.