Kingsman: The Secret Service was a surprise hit for 20th Century Fox in early 2015, and it brought more recognition and success to director-producer-writer Matthew Vaughn. The man behind Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past successfully branched out to the spy genre and many couldn’t wait for a follow-up. After two years Vaughn is back with the spy franchise that’s way more fun than it deserves to be. This follow-up, The Golden Circle, harkens back to the Bond films when Roger Moore was 007. Full of action and humor, The Golden Circle incorporates typical sequel tropes – bigger action and explosions, a bigger cast with A-list names, and bigger stakes. As history has proven, bigger is not necessarily better, but considering the cartoon-like vibe of the series, it’s perfect.

The Golden Circle, if nothing else, is consistent with its intent to go big. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is back to save the world and, with all the exposition out of the way, Vaughn jumps right in with an action sequence set to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Eggsy’s immediate villain is Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft), a callback to the The Secret Service who was believed to be dead. As this attack takes place in the streets of London, Vaughn sets the tone that this will be crazier than its predecessor. Complete with fun gadgets (a car that can transport underwater, grenades which look like baseballs, fancy lassos, suitcase rocket launchers, robotic dogs, Elton John), you can see and understand the cartoon comparison.

Knowing all that, The Golden Circle’s major drawback is realizing the stakes are empty. In a world where dead people can come back to life, it’s difficult to create any tension. From the trailers, fans already know coming in that Harry Hart (played again by Colin Firth) is still alive, so we know major characters don’t die. It deflates things a little, yet Vaughn does well to keep the fun going.

In the original, Samuel L. Jackson was able to ham it up as Richmond Valentine, and picking up where he left off is Julianne Moore as Poppy Adams. Full of fake charm and loaded with cruelty, Poppy is a major drug dealer whose eccentricity leads her to poison her own supply in order to hold the world hostage. Only Poppy has the cure, and she uses that as leverage to legalize drugs globally, thus legitimizing her business and securing her place as the world’s most successful businessman. Poppy is similar to Valentine in that she seems to want the rid the world of its dregs, so Vaughn seemingly presents us with villains who might actually be relatable. At the same time, Vaughn takes shots at Donald Trump by portrying a President (played by Bruce Greenwood) who sees this ransom as a fantastic political opportunity. This came off as a drawback because this subplot undermines the action-comedy vibe by presenting a socio-political message.

Vaughn also took opportunity to Americanize the franchise, introducing the Statesman, Kingsman’s cousin agency in the States. Led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges), the Statesman boasts counterparts for Eggsy, Harry and Merlin (Mark Strong) in Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger (Halle Berry). For the most part it works, but it’s obvious Vaughn and 20th Century Fox used this to bring in more big name talent.

One aspect that was old and unwelcome is the forgettable relationship between Eggsy and the Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), the woman he saved in the first film. Cramming that in pushed the running time to 141 minutes, meaning there were plenty of wasted scenes which never should’ve made the final cut. Besides, Alström lacks screen presence and, with Egerton still working on his, their chemistry is bland and boring.

With The Golden Circle, Matthew Vaughn has extended a fun and entertaining world. Vaughn brought back the comedic elements which both the Bond and Bourne series are missing, but sadly it’s still misogynistic and pro-violent. If you shed all that and go in just looking to be entertained, then this is excellent, but I hope Vaughn can reel things back in for the third installment. In the meantime I can enjoy (albeit not as much as the first) a fun action film that’s better than a majority of this summer’s releases.

3.5 stars out of 5

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