‘Golden Circle’ echoes triumphs of its predecessor

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When “Kingsman: The Secret Service” first arrived in early 2015, it came as a pleasant surprise to both casual and hardcore movie fans alike. With its distinct style, humor and action, the film ended up making a modest impression on pop culture while being a humble box office hit as well.

With the sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” director Matthew Vaughn broadens the universe he established with the first film and continues a lot of the good things that its predecessor had going for it, to an extent.

Right out of the gate, “Golden Circle” throws its audience into a fast-paced car chase, laying out exactly what to expect from the film moving forward. The hyper-violence and black humor of the first film rings throughout this installment, which is welcome and expected, and this opening scene sets that tone rather well. If you show up to the theater expecting to see balls-to-the-wall action bulging at the brim with bloody dismemberment, perfectly executed slow-motion sequences and goofy spy gadgets, “Golden Circle” will be an absolute blast for you to watch.

While the action is as consistently fun, violent and whimsical as the first, if not more so, the most refreshing moments of “Golden Circle” are when the plot takes its audience in a direction that is not initially expected given all of the big blockbuster clichés that exist. When it seems that an eye-rolling plot line is about to unfold, it’s almost immediately flipped on its head and taken down a more interesting path.

This time around sees our favorite British spies teaming up with the American equivalent of the Kingsman, the Statesman. This leads to a lot of fun contrasting moments as the prim and proper Kingsman find themselves a bit out of their element in the hands of the hootin’ and hollerin’ Kentuckians that are the Statesman, which includes small, yet enjoyable roles from Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Channing Tatum as well as a very high-energy performance from newcomer Pedro Pascal’s electric bull whip-wielding Agent Whiskey, who shockingly has more screen time than both Bridges and Tatum combined.

The fantastic casting for the new characters in this film is as star-studded as it is strangely fitting, including one of the funniest, most off-the-wall cameos from Sir Elton John, joyously playing himself. Additionally, the leader of the titular drug cartel, Poppy Adams, played by Julianne Moore, is perfectly over-the-top and fun to watch, even if the character itself is paper-thin.

Much like the first film, “Golden Circle’s” plot revolves around a budding social issue within America, this time in the form of the growing issue of the legalization of specific drugs. Though done so tastefully, this is where the film begins to fall apart a bit.

The message itself is a bit confused, as it’s never really clear what the film is trying to get its audience to think about with this specific topic. This may be intentional, as the topic itself is a very complicated one, but this doesn’t change the fact that it seems to be simultaneously in favor of and against legalizing drugs. This leads to some commentary featuring a president character, a clear Trump/far-right parody, whose scenes are so impossibly on the nose that I’m surprised there wasn’t snot dripping from the screen.

Any other complaints I could have about the film are mostly minor. It’s a bit too long and isn’t actually saying anything incredibly meaningful, but for a film like this to work, it doesn’t have to. “Kingsman,” as a franchise, only has to be three of the things I mentioned earlier in this review: hyper-violent, darkly funny and uniquely stylized; all things that “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” delivers effortlessly.

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