Several months ago, we asserted that the new “xXx” couldn’t compare to the spy-game cool of “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” After seeing “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” the wild sequel from the returning team of Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, and director Matthew Vaughn, we realize the argument can be taken further.
With its inventively nutso action, youthful vibe, and subversive topicality, the “Kingsman” franchise feels more relevant than even Daniel Craig’s James Bond. Screen espionage doesn’t come any hipper these days.
It also doesn’t come out of the gate any faster. Dashing former delinquent Eggsy (Egerton) has barely made an opening appearance outside of his tailor shop HQ when he’s attacked by old training nemesis Charlie (Edward Holcroft) and his new cyborg arm. Their fight plays out in a taxi tearing through the streets of London, all violently shifting angles, death-defying maneuvers, and Prince blasting on the stereo. “Let’s Go Crazy” is right — it takes a touch of mad genius to find a way to squeeze so much dizzyingly choreographed mayhem into such close quarters.
Off duty, Eggsy still mourns his mentor, Harry (Firth, gunned down last time), and devotedly plays house with Swedish royal Tilde (Hanna Alström, helping with the movie’s amusing, intriguingly un-Bondlike take on monogamy). But the quiet can’t last, not with the scheme for global drug-trade domination being hatched by kitschy, chirpy cartel boss Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore, gamely goofing on retro wifey-poo archetypes she’s tackled). Unleashing a virus that only she can neutralize, she orders world leaders to just say no to “Just Say No” – a circumstance a tad more fraught than some legalization vote.
Poppy’s villainy compels Eggsy and tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong) to seek help from the Statesmen, American counterparts bankrolled by Kentucky whiskey money. The Brits are also reunited with Harry, who’s not dead after all — as the film’s advertising revealed — but who’s not exactly intact, either.
Credit Vaughn and writing partner Jane Goldman for thinking so expansively in plotting a sequel, and not merely reprising Firth’s pub smackdown and other first-installment highlights. The parallel-agency concept opens the door for a whole supplemental cast: bristly Tequila (Channing Tatum), hospitable Champ (Jeff Bridges), gadget-y Ginger Ale (underutilized Halle Berry), and lasso-twirlin’ Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, channeling Burt Reynolds).
Even at almost 2½ hours, the movie can’t juggle them all perfectly. But as with that insane opener, we sure get a charge out of going along for the chaotic ride.
KINGSMAN: The Golden Circle
Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Written by Jane Goldman and Vaughn, based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 141 minutes. R (strong violence, drug content, language throughout, some sexual material).Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.