I like the first “Kingsman” movie, “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” It isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s audacious in a way that too few films are. It is a movie which really goes for it – an over-the-top extravaganza with some inventive set pieces. It feels fresh and vibrant and even if the villain portion of the story isn’t great, Colin Firth playing against type as a super-slick secret agent who works for a group known as Kingsman is wonderful.

Director Matthew Vaughn has now returned to the well with “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” and, despite this only being the second outing, things seem to have run dry. That which was funny and fresh last time, now feels staid and boring. The most exciting and inventive parts have been replaced by… well, not much.

At the core of the original “Kingsman” is the relationship between Firth’s Harry Hart and new recruit to the spy game, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). Firth is a force of nature in the first movie and Egerton is vivacious. During the course of that film (IF YOU HAVEN’T PAID ATTENTION TO THE ADVERTISING FOR THIS FILM AND HAVE NOT SEEN THE FIRST, SPOILERS FOR BOTH ARE COMING, QUIT NOW), Hart is killed by Samuel L. Jackson’s baddie. It is an incredibly surprising moment that the film carries out beautifully. It isn’t ruined by “Golden Circle” bringing him back from the dead, but the way in which that happens is just not all that great.

The plot for “Golden Circle” essentially sends Eggsy off on a mission with the Kingsman version of Q, known as Merlin (Mark Strong). They are going after the drug dealing villain, Poppy (Julianne Moore). This baddie has a villainous plot to make drugs legal by threatening to kill millions of people if drugs remain illegal (she’s poisoning people).

I would say that this is all better if you don’t think about it, but one of the problems with this world is that you kind of have to think about it. Poppy is furious that drugs are illegal because it means that despite being rich, she has to live in a villain’s lair in the middle of nowhere and doesn’t get respect for her business acumen.

A very long discussion could ensue here about the film’s stance on women as offered in its depiction of this character. Poppy is willing to kill millions of people in order to get respect. That along with loving Elton John and the 1950s are her biggest character traits. Obviously, the sort of respect she wants is a little difficult for the leader of a drug cartel to garner, and yet she’s willing to commit mass murder to do it. What is the film then saying about her (and perhaps, by extension, women)? Is it simply that Poppy is unhinged or is “Golden Circle” suggesting that women become unhinged looking for respect, or that they don’t understand that which deserves respect? At the very least, the depiction of Poppy and her plan ought to make the audience squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

The film does offer a less questionable depiction of Halle Berry as Ginger, Merlin’s opposite in the U.S.-based Statesman organization (their answer to Kingsman). Ginger wants to become an active agent and hasn’t stopped trying to make that happen. The character is given little to do, but she is undoubtedly the best part of the Statesman whose members also include Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and Champagne (Jeff Bridges). This group is largely played for laughs, and while they manage to be amusing at times, they aren’t terribly three dimensional. Whiskey works out to be the most well-rounded of this group, but that may just be because he’s in the film more than any of the others. The way he’s used, however, isn’t terribly successful.

“The Golden Circle” seems to have little idea of what they want from this U.S.-based group other than to include their existence. The plot makes them relevant, but never interesting.

That said, none of the characters in the film—Statesmen, Kingsmen, or other—are used in largely successful ways – not Eggsy, not Harry, not Poppy, not Roxy (Sophie Cookson), not Charlie (Edward Holcroft), not Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström), not Merlin, and certainly not poor Elton John (this bears repeating: poor Elton John). It is a movie without a compelling story to tell, and not one which tells the story it does have in an engaging way. The plot holes are numerous and the action ho-hum.

I am at this point struggling for what else to say because reading all of the above it sounds like I hate the movie and I don’t. It’s bad, but it’s not awful. Awful would be the actions of the President (Bruce Greenwood) in the film.

“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is just a sequel that is missing the fun and excitement of the first film, and because of that the weaknesses show all the more. Skip it, but keep those fingers crossed for a third movie in the franchise, because I’m convinced that there’s life left in it.

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photo credit: 20th Century Fox