Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman are very good at re imagining things. They took the Fairy-tale story and flipped it in Stardust, they took a kid-becomes-superhero tale and added blood, swearing and an Adam West-channelling Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass, they breathed new life into the X-Men series with First Class, and now they’ve no doubt smirked to themselves whilst making a 15-rated Roger Moore era Bond film with a witty Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Three years on and it’s little surprise that a sequel to the 2014 spy film has come along, and given that non-Vaughn follows ups to Vaughn made products have traditionally been massive turds (Kick-Ass 2 was a disappointment, and X-men: Days of Future Past is a so-so addition to the series), this Vaughn made sequel doubles down on his loves for better and for worse.
The Secret Service was a well shot, jukebox swear fest that had the madcap over-the-top story telling of the Roger Moore era Bond films with a hoods-to-bow-ties story of spy training. Second time around and it’s another case of aping the madness but with a little bit of the Brosnan-era continuity. This time around, following the first film, Eggsy and Merlin are left up a creek when a drug cartel destroy all the Kingsman (including and unforgivably Sophie Cookson’s Roxy Morton), so they must meet their US-based cousins the Statesman who instead of Arthur and the Knights of the roundtable style names go under codenames relating to their brewery based booze.
The good things are of course the actors with the likes of Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong doing their best, and actually working really well. Even if the explanation of how Firth is back after the first film lessens the impact, and takes up a little too much time in the film when it needs to be barrelling forwards, they central friendship between the three is still one of the highlights of the film, as is the increased importance of his girlfriend Princess Tilde – superbly played by Hanna Alstrom as a down-to-earth woman who can’t bake a cake (and promises that saving world means anal sex).
It’s a pity that there are so many new characters, and that some fall down when it comes to explanation. There’s something enjoyable about the introductions of heehaw rodeo boy Statesman Channing Tatum, though, and Halle Berry is the best she’s been in years, and it’s unfortunate that there’s so little Jeff Bridges as head of the Statesman, Champ. In fact, when it comes to new people, the main three that really have an impact are Julianne Moore as the Americana inflected drug kingpin Poppy Adams, living in her remote 50s style Poppyland base, Pedro Pascal’s agent Whiskey who’s dandy-style lasso wielding agent gets us motivated, and Sir Elton John as Sir Elton John, kidnapped by Poppy and dropping f-bombs like it’s going out of fashion.
The action — much like the first film — is excellent, from the film’s opening car chase fight sequels through the streets of London, to the saloon bar brawl reprise and the climax of the film. There’s also a few gut punches in there, much like the first, but sadly there’s moments that lack the first film’s impact. There’s no revelation as funny as the “he reminds me every time I take a shit” dialogue, and while the raid on Poppyland is good especially to ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’, but there’s no scene as insane as the Baptist Church massacre to Lynyrd Skynard’s ‘Freebird’.
Poppy as the villain is strong. Unlike Samuel L. Jackson’s Richmond Valentine, a Richard Branson-style media mogul who intends to create genocide to save the world, this one is the Martha Stewart style all-American woman who happens to be the Pablo Escobar of the modern age, with her 50s style lair and robot dogs. There’s something very enjoyable about Julianne Moore’s grinning performance, constantly smiling and being overly polite.
It’s true that the first film’s pacing was much easier, and there happens to be a lot of treading the same story beats as the first film (shock shock double agents afoot). But when the action ramps up, the good times roll and it’s clear that Vaughn and co are having a blast. It might prove a little too vulgar for some, but as a sequel people can’t be surprised by it. Once again there’s cameos aplenty and even though the southern war-on-drugs President (Bruce Greenwood – always welcome) is a little lost in the mad scramble, as an ode to the Bond films of old it’s a rollicking good time.
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If part three is on the horizon, and hopefully it will be, there’s hope that they can iron out the kinks of this film for a smoother, more surer ride. And get Elton John to come back soon. It’s also worth noting that the action sequences are as well shot as the action in this year’s Baby Driver, and of course the costumes are impeccable, as you would expect.
If you loved the first film this one will deliver more of the mad action fun that you loved so much, even if a second mission doesn’t quite have the spark and creativity of the first it’s still a roller-coaster thrill ride with curse words, blood, guts and belly laughs.