'Kingsman' sequel disappoints in comparison to predecessor

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film

When the only laughs you hear are the deep hoho’s of male theater attendees over 50, you know you did something wrong. The movie-going experience at Galaxy Highland Theater during the prescreening of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” felt more like a screening of “The Expendables” than the anticipated release of a director known for his wit. 

Whereas director Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” could best be described as social satire meets pop-art, its follow-up, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” is better described as dumbed-down Warhol — that is to say, kitsch. 

With its predecessor boasting unforgettable moments — from Harry Hart’s (Colin Firth) epitomization of badass with a gory fight scene in a church, to the confetti-esque explosion of the heads of societal elite — the mere concept of as memorable a second edition would’ve been difficult to achieve in the first place. It’s true that this sequel, like many others, lacked the creativity of the original, but what truly killed the movie was its failed ambition.

The premise of the introduction of Statesman — an American parallel to England’s Kingsman — had the potential to be a hilarious exploration of what happens when sleek and sophisticated spies meet macho-cowboys. Disappointingly, the result is a camp-filled endurance test of escalating ridiculousness, without the grounding self-awareness of Vaughn’s first installment. 

When Eggsy (Taron Egerton) turns to these Americans for help after things go south for Kingsman, they do so for the audience as well. In fact, all of the Statesman characters, with the exception of Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), come across as flat, meaningless tropes. 

Perhaps the only engaging part of the “The Golden Circle” came from the villains for which the movie is named. 

Poppy (Julianne Moore), a sociopathic, ’50s obsessed, middle-aged Harvard business graduate runs her monopoly on the world drug trade from the middle of a jungle lair, which she’s named The Golden Circle. Like any scene she enters, Moore steals the show, convincingly and hilariously proving Poppy’s ruthlessness as charismatically as Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) in the first “Kingsman.” Her plot to manipulate the U.S. government is a similarly clever commentary on the state of the country’s drug policy, nearly to the caliber of the first movie’s world-ending situation. 

Nonetheless, Poppy couldn’t be saved from a script that lacked enough depth to penetrate her golden circle.

That’s not to say the action in the movie isn’t well-executed. An opening car chase and later scenes involving laser lassos and robot dogs are choreographed as tightly and stylishly as Kingsman suits are tailored. 

But when push comes to shove, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is not as sharply edited. 

The movie spends far too much time building up the back story of characters we don’t care about, when it could be spending more time on the ones we do. The decision to bring back Harry Hart was a mistake that takes far too much time and energy. When the story could’ve gone the route of exploring new developments and mocking the pompousness of the 007 lifestyle Eggsy has now fully adopted, it almost seems as if Vaughn got tired, or lazy, and decided to give in to the trope he so desperately and viciously mocked in “The Secret Service.”

If “The Secret Service” was a commentary on the struggle to overcome British class division, then “The Golden Circle” represents a subsequent forgetting of that lesson and an almost sickening betrayal of values. Perhaps the reason “The Golden Circle” was so disappointing is not because it was necessarily terrible, but because it forgot where it came from.