Kingsman: The Golden Circle returned to the world of spy-craft, high tech cloak and dagger, and fine tailoring. The movie released on the 22nd of September and after watching it, I almost decided to pass on posting a review.

You see I have a strange relationship with Matthew Vaughn. He’s produced some movies I’m absurdly fond of like: The Debt, Stardust, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and, of course, Kick-Ass.  His directorial eye is unique and often leads to inspired action sequences, excellent visual comedic timing, and making the fantastical look amazing in a real world setting. But it’s when he’s involved in the writing process that things can get a little well, wonky.

It cannot be said enough that one of the things that made Kingsman so fantastic – and a stand out among movies of its kind – is its high-minded yet ironic and comedic spin on the the world of high stakes, high style espionage. The spy genre is one that either takes is self extremely seriously or is the subject of out and out lampooning. Kingsman threaded the needle with skill, great comedic timing, perfectly cast stately figures (hellllllo Colin Firth) more than capable of selling both the attitude and mein of a real spy recruiting,training and molding the next generation of “proper secret agents” and carrying off being the man of action with seriously badass skils and high tech gadgets at one’s disposal. Kingsman reinvigorated the spy movie genre with a flair and comedic styling it need to feel fresh and relevant in the trend of big, louder movies. The best part in all this is, Kingsman managed to pull it all off without sacrificing a fully developed story, or great character development in service to high jinx and CGI shenanigans.

I was excited to see the second movie announced. I freely admit now I’m horribly biased in favor of any project that includes Mark Strong.

Even the promise to expand the spy world beyond the UK network sounded exciting. I had high hopes with each new cast announcement: Jeff Bridges, Halley Berry, Channing Tatum, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascal all coming on board as Kingsman comes State-side.

Property of Twentieth Century Fox

and then I saw the movie…

I was delighted to see Eggsy as a dapper dressed agent about town and the return of Roxy, Poppy, Merlin, and Arthur looking set to reprise their roles. The story opens with a wing and a bang. Eggsy swings into action battling a foe through the streets of London. From the get go, it’s clear director Matthew Vaughn brought his excellent sense of timing and his directorial A game to Kingsman 2.  The stunts are amazing, the sequences simultaneously hilarious and just this side of unbelievable. The gadgets envy inspiring yet somehow still futuristic enough to be cool. You think, “yes, Kingsman is back!” and then…Matthew Vaugh, writer happens.

For all its great fit, flair, and perfect casting, Kingsman 2 doesn’t keep its promise of bringing an innovative, uniquely situated spy story to the table.

The story arc is almost a complete retread and it feels like it: Agency destroyed…must find ways to stop deranged but uber intelligent killer in cahoots with disgruntled former recruit from subjecting the world to their twisted domination. There are hardly any deviations from either standard spy movie fare or the twists and turns offered in the original movie’s plot and story line.

Despite expanding the world of Kingsman, the audience is treated to yet another go of the mighty trio sallying forth to save the world…with a little help from their friends (but not really). The villain, Poppy (played with tongue in cheek hilarity by Julianne Moore) feels less like a real adversary and evil genius than a lady-prop not bombastically evil or diabolical enough to fill in the crater left behind by Valentine.

Vaughn, the writer cannibalized his first movie’s screenplay in both the best and worst way possible. The now iconic lines and phrases (and more than a few inside jokes) are all back this go-round. Many of them take on new life and add witty repartee and moments to flesh out the backstory of the agents and their lives outside of Kingsman

The Secret Service. But sadly, far too many become just gimmicks in the second. Vaughn essentially uses the Statesmen to justify the costs associated with the mission at hand. The Kingsman’s American cousins are a bit more than twice removed in this film which is a disappointment because their introduction and their team members are dammed interesting all on their own.

The red herrings and misdirects were predictable (for some inexplicable reason) and the twists not as compelling. Amazing fight scenes and fancy tricks could do only so much to make up for the regression of female agents* to paper-thin practical background characters, the loss of key team players that make the story and the action feel engaging and fresh, and the obvious hyper-consciousness of not politically offending the first movie pay no heed to. I kept getting pulled out of the story and plot when a reused element didn’t ring true the second time around. Great directing and colorful visual elements don’t make up for losing great characters for stupid reasons that barely service the story and it will never make up for sidelining talented actors because all you really wanted was their name on the marquee.

The knee-jerk reduction of depth and development means only on thing: Kingsman is now a franchise with a capital F and will act accordingly. So most of the new elements and agents felt like prep and set-up for the next movie (or a spin-off) instead of necessary to moving this film’s story along.

As much as I enjoyed the movie and it provided almost 2 hours of laughing, head-shaking escape, Matthew Vaughn and his writing team apparently only enough original content in them to support one uniquely situated spy movie and that’s just a damn shame.

Go, enjoy. It’s a fun ride with some familiar faces. You’ll laugh, shake your head and leave with at least one new witty line; but do it knowing you’ve seen most of this story before and liked it better the first time around.

Grade: B+

*no three-dimensional females were harmed during the production of this movie because none were created during the writing process.

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