Harry Hart apparently died in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but after the 2014 film was such a huge hit it was obvious he’d have to return.
Now he’s back, and while Kingsman without Hart is like a bespoke suit without a pinstripe, it does stretch credulity – even in an over-the-top, explosion-filled spy actioner already stretching credulity to gossamer-thin breaking point.
But though Harry (Colin Firth) returns, one of him appears to be worth several other Kingsman agents, who are blown up during the film (may they Rest In Pieces, until they’re put back together for episode 3).
These killings are part of a dastardly and somewhat hard-to-follow plan for world domination from the warped mind of glamorous drugs kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore), a deliciously batshit psychopath who runs a vast business empire supplying every kind of illegal drug, but who deep down just wants to be loved (in a business and celebrity sense only).
After adulterating her own drugs, such is the reach of Poppy’s products that soon millions of people around the world are falling victim to a potentially fatal rash that makes their skin look like blue cheese.
Poppy thinks nothing of putting British national treasures (the acting kind, not the crown jewels, or Constable’s The Haywain) through her giant mincing machine in her amazing kitchen, tucked away in some jungle ruins. While managing her empire she forces the ivory-tinkling Elton John, who she has kidnapped, to entertain her, though to be fair she has named her robot attack dogs Benny and Jet in his honour so it’s not entirely one-sided. (What can I say about Elton – he’s certainly not miscast, and he has the best costumes as well as a delightful foot stamping diva-ishness.)
Poppy’s henchmen get to enjoy her spa, run by a blonde pony-tailed robot who I hope is called Nikita, where teeth are filed smooth and fingerprints removed. It all looks agonising, but at least they know what we go through now, and it’s not like they had a Brazilian or anything.
With the Kingsman ranks so depleted, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) travel to Kentucky to meet with Statesman, a similar American independent security organisation whose cover business is whisky.
Their agents have their own uniform too (stetsons and jeans) and codenames: Tequila (Channing Tatum, portraying the dumb one as not quite dumb enough), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, looking like an early 70s Burt Reynolds and just as smooth), and Champagne (the grizzled boss, played by Jeff Bridges). Their weaponry of choice is guns ‘n’ lassos rather than guns ‘n’ briefcases, but together the two organisations must defeat Poppy’s evil, um, poppy empire, and save the world.
The action is fast paced and perfectly choreographed: a falling cable car high in the snowy Italian mountains is head-spinningly exciting, even if I had no idea why it was happening; and the film’s opener is an extraordinary Let’s Go Crazy-soundtracked car chase in a black cab, when Poppy’s employee and failed Kingsman trainee Charlie Hesketh returns, with an articifial arm and a funny voice, to kidnap Eggsy.
But the film is far too long at 2 hours 20 minutes. And the merging of such extreme violence (mincing heads) with jokes doesn’t quite gel especially as most of the gags aren’t funny enough to be memorable. (One of the best occurs on a sundeck high up in the mountains, full of immobile elderly people wrapped in blankets, who sit aghast as a snowy oblivion heads towards them. Disaster averted, one recovering resident states “that’s the first decent shit I’ve had in 3 weeks!” It probably helps to be the parent of small boys or be over 80 to fully appreciate that joke.)
Oh and you want to know about any anal sex gags don’t you. Well instead of the anal sex gag from the last film that we miserable, joyless, fun-sucking feminists, intent on removing every last anal sex gag from the cinematic universe, complained about, this time Eggsy has to insert a tracking device into Charlie’s girlfriend Clara (Poppy Delevingne). It has to go in via a “mucus membrane” and no that doesn’t mean up her nose. I know, progress!
If Kingsman: The Golden Circle has a message, it’s that we shouldn’t demonise people who take drugs. And that we should buy all the product placement (not including the drugs which I’m assuming are generic brands). There’s also loads of swearing.
What’s the best thing about it? John fucking Denver, that’s what. Yes, for the severalth time this year, cinema screens will gently reverberate to the sounds of Take Me Home, Country Roads. I love that song and it’s the reason I gave the film 3 stars instead of 2.5.
Kingsman is a very male film despite the presence of Julianne Moore and Halle Berry. The meetings of hologram agents in both organisations are nearly all men, and out of the Statesman and Kingsman teams there is only one woman, Ginger Ale (Berry – couldn’t they at least have called her Gin & Tonic or something? My dad used to drink ginger ale and he was lovely but he wasn’t cool).
Hart’s reappearance reminded me of the shower scene in Dallas when Bobby Ewing came back from the dead (ask your mum, kids). But because it’s Firth, his early scenes – amnesiac, confused and diffident, his hair a mess, thinking he’s a lepidopterist – have a touching poignancy. Baffled by the idea that he was once a super-spy, yet perfectly confident when it comes to butterflies, he looks like a posh if absent-minded teacher from a minor prep school.
Eggsy is settled at Kingsman so that learning curve is gone now. He is a dutiful boyfriend to Princess Tilde and is keeping up friendships with his council estate mates, but there’s no friction. And though Taron Edgerton is, as ever, engaging, he doesn’t seem that essential to Kingsman. Harry’s relationship with Eggsy changes because of the effects of Harry’s shooting, but not to any great extent which seems a missed opportunity.
Merlin is also back, with Strong playing it straight in an M&S jumper, happy to be the backroom boy and leave the glory to someone else. Moore is delicious and really gets her teeth into Poppy: the evil entrepreneur may be mad and bad but she’s also lonely.
If only the film had been shorter, Poppy’s empathy-free evil, the sheer exuberance of the action sequences, and the entertainingly touching relationships between Eggsy, Harry and Merlin, would’ve all carried the story forward with more verve and panache.