Not that anyone has been calling for it, director Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” brings the spy saga back in all its overblown, inconsistent glory. In this ultraviolent farce many innocent people suffer, especially in the audience.
The urge to turn any moneymaking film into a franchise generally produces more wasted effort than must-see cinema. “Kingsman,” a dapper, cheeky 2015 caricature of 007 films, made a profit and thus became a brand all its own. Now, like films about Chucky the killer doll or dopey pirate movies, it can spawn sequel after sequel, with or without our permission.
If “Kingsman” fails to run up to the typical trilogy set, I will be relieved. The form isn’t much different from the previous movie, but the execution is excruciating. This second edition becomes uproariously unfunny long before the climax.
The action takes place in a preposterous world where the only important location in London is the opulent Kingsman clothing store that discerning gentlemen visit to be nattily attired. Behind its sales floor operates a secret British spy service protecting the nation without actually answering to it. No matter how many explosions, gunfights and battles royal the team triggers, police never arrive to ask what’s going on. That is perhaps the only believable notion in the whole affair.
In the last film, Colin Firth played Harry, a debonair secret agent who adopted a street tough named Eggsy (Taron Egerton) to dress for success and kill off enemies by the score. In that episode Harry and one other supporting character were killed, but in this universe death is a subjective hypothesis. They return in altered forms to help or hinder Eggsy’s efforts to save the world from a plague of toxic recreational drugs pushed by their new, ever-cheerful but sadistic nemesis, Poppy (Julianne Moore, playing the part like a smiling cobra).
Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman, who teamed on such worthwhile trifles as “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class,” test our patience beyond endurance. They carry us through two hours and 21 minutes of action-crammed rinse and repeat with little payoff. Unlike the Austin Powers satires, which mixed their slapstick goofery with sophisticated humor, this is made in the campiest, dumbest, broadest way possible. With its detailed visuals and boy’s adventure attitude, it plays like a smutty, world-traveling Tintin comic book.
As if the first film wasn’t gaudy enough, the second pushes hyperbole into the red zone, packing in every clichéd perception of Americanism and British character. Rather than the grandiose high-tech lair of Bond villains, Poppy’s jungle retreat is a polished replica of a 1950s American small town with its own diner, movie theater and doughnut shop, guarded by armed security and, of course, bloodthirsty robot dogs. Naturally, when the English operatives walk through the South American forest, they wear crisp double-breasted suits and knotted ties. Their American spy counterparts, who hide behind the Statesman bourbon distillery in Kentucky, wear Stetsons and work in a skyscraper-high liquor bottle.
The supporting cast is peppered with marquee-worthy actors in glorified cameo roles. They won’t be named here to keep them as surprises for anyone who sees the film, and to limit the performers’ embarrassment. That said, the acting is deeply, deliberately uneven. Repeated visits to the White House play as if Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of the president is his audition to be Alec Baldwin’s Trump stand-in on “Saturday Night Live.” Pedro Pascal almost scores a hit as a spy who’s a dead ringer for 1970s Burt Reynolds, until his part is undercut by sessions of lasso swinging and bullwhip cracking that would be too much even at a rodeo event.
The film was inspired by a British cartoon series written by Mark Millar and drawn by Dave Gibbons. Having never read it, I can’t say how many of the film’s flaws are inherited from the source. But I’d guess that the creators wouldn’t proudly claim a lot of it for themselves.