Directed by Matthew Vaughn | Written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman, based on The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons | 141 min
Kingsman: The Secret Service is an odd, postmodern action movie, one that revels in all its James Bond 007-aping tropes, but serving them up in a class-conscious, R-rated, vaguely satirical dish. I enjoyed parts of the first film, but also found it pointlessly violent and a little too smug for my tastes. This sequel, arriving a little more than two years later, is a vacant, pointless rehash that manages to be much less fun than the problematic original. Given the first film’s baked-in cynicism, this one didn’t have far to go to feel like a hollow cash-grab, yet it still doubles down.
We’re back with the British independent spy agency whose front is a tailor shop, though now the new recruit from the last film, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), is their main man. After a particularly weak opening action sequence slathered with substandard CGI, we learn the company’s files have been hacked— Eggsy’s fault, though he never seems to get the blame—leading to the organization’s destruction. Everyone’s dead but for Eggsy and the quartermaster, Merlin (Mark Strong). The two survivors go looking for help from the American branch, the Statesman, who’re in the whiskey business in Kentucky and strut around in cowboy gear. Cue a bunch of brief, wasted support from Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Halle Berry, though Game of Thrones veteran and lasso expert Pedro Pascal gets more to do. Colin Firth’s Harry shows up again, too, despite having been shot in the head in the first movie. (This isn’t a spoiler: he’s on the poster and in the trailer.) The way they shoehorn Firth back into the story tests the credibility of even this cartoonish tripe, while the villain of the piece, Julianne Moore’s drug kingpin/extortionist/1950s America nut, makes no sense at all.
There’s so much material here that could be fun, it’s actually a surprise that it fails at almost every turn. The movie briefly tries to make us care about Eggsy’s relationship with his girlfriend, Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), by throwing a romantic comedy twist into the spy stuff, but it just falls flat. The gadget-loving material feels lamer than when they made fun of it in the Austin Powers movies, and the transgressive stuff allowable in an R-rated movie isn’t nearly as playful as the last time. A lot of pointless swearing doesn’t do much for me.
The great Emily Watson shows up and is as wasted as everyone else. Elton John is on board playing himself as a celebrity hostage—he does a lot of yelling, and plays a couple of background tunes while managing to get the movie’s single laugh when he high-kicks a henchman. That scene is a rare action sequence not shot in a blur of CGI—the stuff you come to a movie like this for is just barely coherent and offers no thrills.
As my cinepanion remarked upon leaving the cinema, “Let’s hope they don’t make another one of these.” Two was already one too many.