Too much and too little all at the same time, the neutering of Eggsy sinks The Golden Circle. Julianne Moore needed way more.
Divisive anal joke aside, there was an anarchic joy to Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. Similarly adapted from a graphic novel by Mark Millar (co-written with Dave Gibbons), it fused the stylish savvy of early Bond with the OTT silliness of latter Moore dialled up to Austin Powers.
For all that Colin Firth brought the classic cool as gentleman Harry Hart, a Saville Row tailor who was, in actual fact, a Gulf War vet turned undercover agent of top secret service Kingsman, it was Taron Egerton who stole the show.
The square-jawed and baby-faced star announced himself as a new heartthrob in either tracksuit or pinstripes as Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin. The council estate scally underwent a Pygmalion-like transformation from directionless delinquent to new save the world recruit care of Harry’s frustrated mentor turned correct cutlery guiding paternal influence.
And that’s exactly what sinks The Golden Circle lower than the sub-aquatic taxi at the climax of an admittedly thrilling car chase opener through central London or that groan-worthy final joke last time round. Nobody needs a sequel to My Fair Lady where Eliza Doolittle plays nicey nice with the upper class snobs, and yet sadly Eggsy has been entirely neutered here.
Yes, he’s still a dab hand in single combat, but he’s also lost all of his ragged edge, barring the accent, with no sense of where he comes from. Now shacked up with the Swedish princess (Hanna Alström) of that eye-raising finale, he barely drinks and pretty much plays by all the rules. In other words, he’s pretty boring now.
Suffocating all of the punk energy of the original, there’s also an undoing of the genuinely moving initial arc. SPOILERS, except not really, given he’s all over the trailers and posters, but despite being executed at point blank range by Samuel L Jackson’s camply lisping villain Valentine at the climax of a terrifying church slaughter, Harry has been brazenly and amusingly reanimated here.
As good as it is to see him, Harry too has been tempered, and his revival undermines the pathos of what went before, barring a couple of overdone scenes of Eggsy’s trembling newfound stiff upper lip.
Wiping pretty much all of the other remaining leftovers, bar one notable exception I won’t mention here, sadly exacerbates the accusations of sexism here. If that anal joke offended, Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goodman double down and round here. There’s nowhere enough screen time for Julianne Moore, clearly the best in show as Poppy, a maniacal global drug cartel matriarch hiding out in a 50s Americana, Cambodian-set jungle lair. Much more was needed of her deliriously dastardly scheme to seize control of the world’s illegal addictions, allowing for strangely muted swipes at a certain President.
The admittedly cute addition of Halle Berry as Ginger Ale, the American counterpart to Mark Strong’s whisky-loving gadget man Merlin, is similarly too underutilised to offer much redress. In fact, the entire US outfit, known as Statesman, are bizarrely underwhelming, with Channing Tatum in particular frozen out.
While The Golden Circle still has a daft sense of humour, with cartoonish goofery counter-balancing the visceral violence, it all feels oddly reined in while simultaneously over-bloated. Even the game insertion of Elton John can’t save this stuff up from running out of steam well before the almost two and half-hour curtain call. The already announced threequel needs to let Eggsy cut loose again if it wants to reclaim the chavtasic crown.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords