When director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: the Secret Service was released in 2015, it filled a void in a spy adventure genre that had become increasingly dour and introspective. He and co-writer Jane Goldman ensured a sense of bawdy, irreverent fun was as much a feature as the breakneck action in their adaptation of the cult comic-book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and a box-office hit was born.
In his first-ever sequel as director, Vaughn plunges back into the world of Kingsman, a British network of well-tailored spies with gadgets to die for, and teenage tearaway-turned-recruit Eggsy (Taron Egerton). Now a top agent, all Eggsy’s skills are needed within seconds of the opening credits when a familiar face from the first film comes a-killing and unleashes the sort of carmageddon on the streets of London that would make a Fast and Furious fan drool.
It’s just the initial volley in the master plan of evil genius Poppy (played with relish by Julianne Moore), whose machinations take in the destruction of Eggsy and colleagues en route to world domination by spiking the world’s drugs with a toxin that has people turning blue and dancing themselves to death. Of course, Poppy has the cure, forcing Eggsy and quartermaster pal Merlin (Mark Strong) to seek help from Kingsman’s US counterpart, the Statesmen.
Cue Hollywood A-listers Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Channing Tatum, and Narcos star Pedro Pascal (lovingly channelling 1970s Burt Reynolds for all he’s worth), and off we go, and then some. Because this is a long haul at 140 minutes, and though there are some cracking if ludicrous action sequences and the cast is evidently having a ball playing secret agents, the momentum is often becalmed for flimsy narrative reasons – an excursion to Glastonbury so Eggsy can put a bug “in” an adversary’s girlfriend is unnecessary for all sorts of reasons.
However, there’s still much to enjoy: the welcome but weird reappearance of Eggsy’s mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth); storming fight scenes including an amusing nod to the original movie’s “manners maketh man” bar brawl, only with American rednecks; pithy culture-clash repartee (the transatlantic difference over spelling of “whiskey”); and the bonkers climax in Poppy’s jungle lair, a garish nod to 50s Americana with diners, bowling alleys and salons, only with killer robot dogs.
But in a cast laden with the Oscar-winning likes of Moore, Berry, Bridges and Firth, it’s actually rock’n’roll legend Elton John who is the standout, hurling choice Anglo-Saxon invective at anyone in earshot and sending himself up with brio as Poppy’s hostage. Captain Fantastic, indeed.
Kingsman: the Golden Circle is released in cinemas on Wednesday 20 September