I remember discussing the reasons behind my thorough enjoyment of the first Kingsman with a couple of critic friends who hated its unfocused and uncontrolled crassness, ultraviolence, and goofy ugliness. While I agreed with most of their points, I proposed that if one was to approach it as a demented hard-R Saturday morning cartoon, and not take any of its multitudes of offenses to decency seriously, then it's a rocking good time. Tone and narrative approach is everything when it comes to such "tasteless" material. I deemed 2008's Wanted, another Mark Millar graphic novel adaptation, to be the worst and most tasteless film of the last decade.
Yet here I was, on the other side of similar arguments I had about Wanted's many fans, trying to explain why Kingsman deserved praise while Wanted should have been scorned. The point boils down to whether or not you're asked to take a single image of the material seriously. If you do, the way you're asked to by Wanted, the whole enterprise becomes disgusting. But if it's presented as a cartoon and you never really cross that line into any credible reality, it's a politically incorrect, raunchy, juvenile blast.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle doubles down on the R-rated Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic by becoming even more joyfully absurd and wantonly violent than the original. The story structure is pretty much a repeat of the first one: An eccentric billionaire criminal threatens to destroy most of the world via some overcomplicated gadgetry, and the dapper ass kickers at The Kingsman, the mega super duper secret agency that seems to be specifically in charge of defeating supervillains that 1960s Bond flicks would have found to be too over the top, has to step up to save the planet.
Co-writer/director's Matthew Vaughn's childlike fascination with old school gadget based spy movie nostalgia is the glue that keeps this franchise together. With the success of the first film under his belt, Vaughn goes all out on dumb but fun gadgetry, a remote controlled mecha-hand that can hack into any network, a couple of robot Dobermans with paper shredder teeth, all the way to an intentionally ridiculous gel technology that fixes fatal head shots, which is used to bring an important character from the first film back from the dead (Not a spoiler really, he's in every trailer).
Samuel L. Jackson's lisping tech giant from the first film was hard to top, but Julianne Moore as one Betty Crocker/Scarface combo of a drug lord, living in a desolate 1950s Americana recreation in the middle of remote Cambodian ruins, is an appropriately crazy replacement for Jackson. Taron Egerton as Eggsy comes across as more mature this time around, as he begins to fit into his cockney Bond persona. I'm glad that a female character, a princess played by Hanna Alstrom, adds charm to the sequel by becoming Eggsy's girlfriend, after being used for a crass anal sex joke in the first film. What I'm not glad about is that the same joke is referenced at least twice during the sequel.
The plot revolving around The Kingsman joining forces with their American counterparts, The Statesman, in order to beat Moore's villain, attempts to bring some visual variety to the series, but having The Statesman become nothing but a series of Western stereotypes don't help much. The novelty of the first film relied on the fact that we saw dapper British gentlemen kill people in extremely violent ways. We expect such behavior from cowboy archetypes, so there isn't much of a surprise element this time around. Since the second film doesn't have to establish the universe of the franchise the way the first one does, Kingsman: The Golden Circle could have easily been 10-20 minutes shorter than the original, instead of being 12 minutes longer. There are points where the filler begins to show itself, especially during a tacked on extra climax that doesn't make much sense and was completely unnecessary. All of that being said, even though the second film in this cartoon-for-adults franchise isn't as impressive as the first, it should nevertheless please fans of the original.