Manners . . . maketh . . . man.
I was about as high on the first Kingsman movie as anyone, I think, and I thought there was plenty of potential for a series, so I was pretty jazzed for this sequel. And I found it to be both a fun time at the movies and a disappointing follow-up to the first film. The first film took some pretty heavy criticism for one of the things I most loved about it, which was its absolutely gleeful approach to ultra-violent mayhem, and I think the filmmakers hit the brakes a bit on that this time round. Yes, I’m aware that this movie features cannibalism. But there’s nothing as insane as that jittery, balls to the walls church brawl here and even though one villainous character gets graphically fed through a meat grinder at the climax, I still can’t help but feel that the gonzo spirit that was behind the first movie climaxing with the head of every world leader literally turning into a mushroom cloud has been tamped down. It doesn’t exactly help that we get footage of that ending at the beginning of this movie, given that nothing nearly that outside the box and jaw-droppingly misanthropic happens in this movie. That said, there’s a good time to be had here. The performances are all quite good; the main holdovers from the first movie are given more to do and they step up with even better performances. Egerton, in particular, gives a surprisingly nuanced performance; for an action hero, he’s surprisingly open about his genuine grief over Colin Firth’s death in the first film and once Firth shows up again here, his suffering is even more nuanced as he sees the man he once knew somehow still living, but also completely gone in a tragic way, and he has some great scenes with Firth where Firth is also really bringing his A-game. Channing Tatum has some nice bits and Pedro Pascal comes close to stealing the show with his charming, kick-ass turn as Whiskey. The action sequences are generally really great. The opening car chase is pretty dull, but the rest work really well. A scene in a bar that mirrors the “manners maketh man” scene from the first film is both hilarious and also a neat expansion on the scene from the first movie. The big action sequences near the end are really great. The closest the movie comes to that church brawl is the scene of Egerton & Firth storming the villain’s compound in a high-octane, really intense gun fight. And while Edward Holcroft’s mechanical armed villain isn’t a patch on Sofia Boutella’s blade-legged femme fatale in the first film, the final showdown between him and Egerton is suitably hard-hitting. And the final fight in the diner, no spoilers, is fantastic as well. However, there are problems not even related to how the movie stacks up against the first one. This one feels very long, though it’s only about ten minutes longer than the first film, and has a lot of filler. The Halle Berry character is totally unnecessary and kind of annoying. A lengthy subplot with Bruce Greenwood as the slimy President of the United States and Emily Watson (of all people to be in a Kingsman movie!) as his put-upon sidekick is completely wasted. And I’m mixed on Elton John. I said it. A few good jokes come out of it, but the overwhelming attitude of “look it’s Elton John ain’t we wacky?!” that the movie has is pretty stupid. It smacks of the movie trying too hard to be strange and gonzo; part of the charm of the first one was how effortless that energy felt. This one’s belaboring the point a bit too much. The movie has good jokes, even a few with Elton, but I found the vast majority of his stuff to fall pretty flat. So, it’s a flawed movie, but it is still an action movie with great action scenes and a surprising focus on character. That central relationship of Harry and Eggsy still feels very real and honest and that makes up for a lot of filler all by itself. The movie still has some of the jittery energy and the creative filmmaking that really elevated the first movie as well, but this feels like a tap down in terms of speed and viscerality and that’s a mistake, I think, from an artistic decision, even as it does move the franchise more in the direction of the mainstream, cannibalism and all. It’s a lesser movie, definitely not a masterpiece, but still basically a good time, even if it pulls too many punches instead of landing them the way I was hoping it would. 3 stars.
tl;dr – sequel tamps down on the craziness that made the first one so brilliant & runs twenty minutes too long, but it still has great performances & fun action; a good time, but not a great one. 3 stars.