SINGAPORE: Director Matthew Vaughn’s stylish and subversive Kingsman: The Secret Service was the original oddball spy thriller that became the unexpected box office hit back in 2014, and it was clear why. Not only did it poke clever fun by turning conventions of the spy genre on its head and pointedly spoofing James Bond with black humour and over-the-top violence, it also cemented actor Taron Egerton as the young star to watch.
Most importantly, it gave fans everywhere even more reasons to love the unflappable and impossibly dapper Colin Firth.
So how does one follow up with the same originality and freshness? Sequels are notoriously difficult, even more so when it’s a post script to one’s own sleeper hit. In the case of Vaughn, it meant throwing everything but the kitchen sink into Kingsman: The Golden Circle.
The result? An American-sized second film where everything is cranked up tenfold to be bigger and brasher, louder and gaudier than its cheeky predecessor.
On paper, Kingsman: The Golden Circle boasts everything one expects from an action-fueled spy comedy sequel. It has stud-of-the-moment Channing Tatum, Game of Thrones and Narcos’ star Pedro Pascal, as well as Oscar winners Jeff Bridges and Halle Berry on board as The Statesman, the American counterparts to the Kingsman. It also has Academy Award-winning Julianne Moore as its villain - an international drug cartel queenpin named Poppy with a sinister plan to force the legalisation of drugs.
Add to that a thrilling grab-you-from-the-get-go car chase opening scene, as well as over-the-top fight sequences complete with violence so extreme it happily winks at the absurd. It has Elton John playing, erm, Elton John. There’s even a gratuitous shoutout to Singapore!
But perhaps in a case of too much of a good thing, The Golden Circle somehow ends up feeling overstuffed with too many ideas and too many new characters shoved into an already lengthy 141 minute run time. The film felt cluttered, the script was missing spirit and the new participants lacked depth.
The all-star A-list cast felt sorely underutilised, especially Tatum in what ended up being a glorified cameo despite his top promotional billing. And while Moore is hilariously unnerving and scene-stealing as the unhinged Poppy, her villain felt oddly under-baked and a missed opportunity to do some effective boundary-pushing.
Surprisingly, the winner in the guest-star department turned out to be none other than Elton John who was perfectly cast and game enough to pull off a hysterical running joke with a great pay-off.
That said, though the over-abundance of players and overall overkill (both literally and figuratively) may have hurt the storytelling and character growth, there's still a lot to be enjoyed about The Golden Circle. As with its predecessor, the sequel crackles when it remains entirely committed to all its outlandish comic book shenanigans. The films are after all fashioned on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons' graphic series.
And there are just enough shocks and surprises to keep fans invested even if not every aspect ends up hitting its exact mark. There’s a whole host of new gadgets to geek out over, a pitch perfect soundtrack, a spot-on Pedro Pascal cracking an electro-whip and high octane set pieces like a cable car crashing spectacularly down a mountain that will help you to overlook the film’s flaws.
And besides the wild action, it is truly the performances by the returning original cast that really carry the weaker parts of the film on their backs. Egerton continues to shine as vulnerable hero Eggsy alongside the always excellent Mark Strong as tech wiz Merlin with a much-deserved prominent presence this time round. And who can ever say no to Firth’s crowd favourite Harry Hart’s unsurprising return to the fray after being presumed dead in the first film?
As sequels go, it's reasonable to concede that The Golden Circle lacks the fresh charm of its predecessor as it pushes aggressively in favour of hyperbole and excess. But that’s the price to pay if you’re in the business of franchise-building and expanding mythology. Fortunately, this sequel has just enough fearless and freaky fun to keep audiences looking forward to a future third chapter.
Genevieve Loh's rating: 3.5/5