If a white towel had been handy as I screened the punishingly long and dreadful “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” I would have thrown it at the screen and made a wish:
Please make it stop.
Please stop with one Academy Award winner after another playing cartoonish and cardboard characters sporting wigs and costumes that look like they were retrieved from a back closet of the “Saturday Night Live” prop department as they spout ridiculous and often painfully unfunny dialogue.
Please stop with the trying-way-too-hard pop culture references.
Please stop with the stylized, slow-mo, cheerfully violent car chases and shootouts and hand-to-hand combat sequences.
Please stop with the scatological humor and the broad stereotypes about American country bumpkins and the casual sexism and the tired James Bond satire and the dopey names for characters and the arbitrary plot twists and the insanely implausible reveals about certain characters.
Also, it’s surely just a coincidence and one can’t blame the filmmakers for not knowing what everyone else is up to — but this is the THIRD action movie this year to feature John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” the third movie this year to incorporate Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and the second movie in the last two months to have Channing Tatum in the cast AND have a pivotal scene in which a character sings that latter tune.
That’s just weird!
Even the quieter, let’s-take-a-breath scenes in “The Golden Circle” are irritating.
At one point, quite deep in a film with a massively bloated running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes, two main characters agree to share a martini, “for old time’s sake.”
One guy makes the drink. In real time. The other guy waits for him to finish. They talk about nothing. They sip their martinis. The conversation continues to go nowhere, until a third character arrives (mercifully, for our sake) and for all intents and purposes announces it’s time to return to the movie.
How is that NOT a deleted scene? It’s not even worthy of inclusion on some future home video release with “bonus footage of previously unreleased material.”
I was a big fan of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014) director Matthew Vaughn’s outlandish (and yes, sometimes quite offensive) adaptation of the popular British action comic book series about an ultra-secret society of agents. It was cheeky. It was crazy. It was cool.
Vaughn returns for the sequel, and within the first 10 minutes he makes it clear “Golden Circle” is going to be bigger and louder than the original. We get a mad and violent (and heavy on the CGI) chase scene set to the tune of Prince’s “Let Go Crazy” — and when it finally comes to an end, there’s about a 30-second pause before we get ANOTHER ambitious and over-the-top chase sequence.
Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy, aka Galahad, who was the protégé of the legendary spy Harry Hart (Colin Firth) in the original. In wardrobe and eyeglasses and demeanor, Eggsy is essentially a younger version of his dearly departed mentor, who was shot point-blank in the head and killed in the first “Kingsman” adventure.
(Or was he? It’s hardly a SPOILER ALERT to say Harry makes a return in “Golden Circle,” given Colin Firth’s presence in the ads and on the posters for the movie.)
Julianne Moore is about as good as it gets most times around, but she gives an off-key and off-putting performance here in a thankless role as Poppy, a bizarrely upbeat global drug kingpin based deep in the Cambodian jungle. Poppy grew up in the 1970s and she loved the nostalgia craze for the 1950s as popularized in movies such as “American Graffiti” and TV shows such as “Happy Days,” so her compound includes an old-fashioned diner and a retro movie theater, and her henchmen wear letterman’s jackets. Um, OK.
After Poppy masterminds a devastating and massive strike against the Kingsman organization, leaving only a few survivors, Eggsy and the unflappable Scottish agent Merlin (Mark Strong) discover there’s an American counterpart to their organization known as the Statesman. Off they go to Kentucky, to find out what’s what.
Jeff Bridges plays Champ, the head of the Statesman. Halle Berry is an underappreciated tech guru known as Ginger Ale. Channing Tatum is the Statesman’s resident bad boy, called Tequila. Pedro Pascal seems to be channeling mid-1970s Burt Reynolds as the agent known as Whiskey.
So we’ve got Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry … that’s FOUR Oscar winners taking out this trash.
Not to mention Sir Elton John, Academy Award winner for best original song, who plays himself in this movie and scores a couple of laughs before his extended cameo wears out its welcome.
One of the worst crimes a sequel can commit is to create a scenario that undoes or renders irrelevant key moments from the original. (Hello, later “Terminator” movies.) “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” commits that offense, among many, many other injustices. Despite the admittedly arresting visuals, including some beautifully eye-popping attention to detail and color in many a scene, this is actually quite an ugly film.
If you liked the original, the best way to preserve that memory is to stay away from this sequel.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Vaughn and Jane Goldman. Rated R (for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material). Running time: 141 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.