I've only just noticed that the title "Kingsman" is singular, which seems a little odd. Whilst the focus of The Golden Circle and its predecessor are on protagonist Eggsy the bulk of the content is really following the Kingsmen organisation, right? Still, singular or not the first film was an unexpectedly wonderful, riotous piece of fun, so can the sequel live up to the hype?
Well, the answer is a little bit yes, a little bit no. The Golden Circle isn't better than The Secret Service, but it isn't much worse either; if anything I'd say they're remarkably well paired. It retains the clever dialogue, incredible action and overall campiness without really pushing any boundaries. In many ways it is a perfect sequel, producing exactly what we loved from the original and repeating it without feeling like a retread. That's quite impressive and doubly so when you really look at the plot. On paper, The Golden Circle falls foul of every irritating issue that plaques big-budget sequels. Jokes and entire scenes that have become fan favourites are repeated with mild twists, the plot is incredibly similar just with a few key character swaps and there's even an unnecessary celebrity cameo which lends little to the plot. And yet... every one of those aspects not only work well but actively enhance the experience. Honestly, it almost feels like Matthew Vaughn decided to make The Golden Circle an incredibly clever parody of the process of sequelisation in general. Whether intentional or not, the result is somewhat brilliant.
Which is to say that no, it really doesn't matter that the "Manners maketh the man" scene is repeated. The subtle differences and role reversals should feel like nauseating fan service, but really they just help set up several plot threads and introduce the new character of Whiskey, whilst making his lasso tricks all the more badass. Nor does it matter when Eggsy repeats punchlines from the first film, because they feel so in-character you just accept it instead of feeling forced (a la The Hobbit). And of course, the inclusion of Elton John is utterly fantastic. It's a nice nod to the first film's plot, both in the explanation as to the kidnapping and the use of a Sun newspaper headline on the wall behind Eggsy's desk, but once the action kicks off it also leads to some very clever editorial work. Not only is Elton's fight scene hilarious (that freeze-frame moment is gold) but his continued inclusion as a legitimate plot device to save Harry was fantastically unexpected.
There are, of course, some moments which work less well. The introduction and subsequent poisoning of Tequila still feels a little odd. I'm a fan of Channing Tatum but not convinced he was much more than trailer bait here, which could also be said of Ginger Ale which was not the best turn for Halle Berry I've seen. And then there were the odd moments of over-reliance on CGI. I'm not sure if Kingsman suffered the same fate as films like The Hobbit, where the CG was designed with 3D in mind and feels flat in 2D as a result, but there were several moments of jarringly bad animation work. I can understand having to CG the introductory chase sequence (though, frankly, it was poorly done and would have been completely badass to do properly) but could they really not have used stock footage of Glastonbury, or even just a proper set? For a film with some truly spectacular moments, the times it was noticeable the effects were pretty awful.
Minor negatives aside though, The Golden Circle remains incredibly fun, campy action. The plot isn't exactly all that deep, but it's executed well enough and whilst remaining pretty heavy-handed with any notions of 'morals' or 'meaning' that really doesn't matter here. The main characters all shine, just as in the original, with the introduced Statesman agents a little more hit and miss, but frankly you watch Kingsmen for Taron Egerton, Mark Strong and Colin Firth, all of whom deliver in spades (offset by a frankly wonderful villain in Julianne Moore). If you enjoyed the original, there's plenty more here to love and personally I'm now very eager for a third helping.