It is a two-and-a-half-hour assault on the senses, but even the slightest pause to consider what's happening in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" reveals that the spy sequel is the most reactionary, cynical, and idiotic movie of the year. In fact, it's the sort of movie that can serve as a pretty decent litmus test, because if someone you know -- particularly a man -- professes a love for this movie, you have to really consider whether they have the moral foundation you would likely want in a friend.
Director Matthew Vaughn's first "Kingsman" movie was a surprise hit back in 2014, when it introduced the world to the charming young British actor Taron Egerton, gave Colin Firth his best role in a few years, and provided decent action thrills along with a slightly self-aware spy story. But the movie -- based on Mark Millar's comic book -- ended with the detonation of most major world leaders, including President Barack Obama's head going off like one of Gallagher's watermelons. And somehow, the sequel is even more of an alt-right fantasy, even if it's a (slightly) more coded one.
Egerton is back as Eggsy, the former street bro-turned-secret agent for the Kingsmen, an independent group of high-tech, above-the-law intelligence service based in the U.K. They are incredibly well-dressed -- their headquarters is hidden by a high-priced Savile Row tailor shop -- and get to play with the sort of gadgets that would make the modern James Bond jealous, if incredulous. Firth plays an agent named Harry Hart, and in the first movie, mentors young Eggsy, who he's recruited out of lockup for stealing a car.
The whole thing is arch and knowing and violent, with both Hart and the billionaire villain, played by Samuel L. Jackson, dying at the end. You're supposed to feel bad about Firth, but since so many other people were killed in a cartoon-like fashion, it's hard to really care all that much. And what do you know: early in the sequel, the Kingsmen are all but eliminated by missiles programmed to blow up each and every one of them (though we only know one of the victims, so again, who cares?).
The drone strikes are sent by a maniacal druglord named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore in what was likely four days on set. She's absolutely insane, and not even in a fun way; she mostly just tortures people, and brutally murders them for laughs, at one point grinding a man into beef and forcing his friend to eat him. Women, right?
Poppy's got all the money in the world, and has constructed her own little retro-style town in the jungles of South America, but because she craves legitimacy, she decides to take the world hostage. She wants ALL drugs to be legalized, lumping together marijuana and heroin, creating a false equivalence that would have made Nancy Reagan swoon.
Eggsy and Mark Strong's Merlin, the Q-equivalent of the Kingsmen, are the only two members to survive the missile attacks, and they drink their way into finding their emergency contacts: The American equivalent of the Kingsmen, a bunch of southerners who make expensive whiskey and wear cowboy hats. They're led by a guy named Champ, a genial southern gent played by Jeff Bridges, who does his best with a paper-thin role -- he never leaves his boardroom, and likely spent even less time on set than Moore. Channing Tatum plays one of his best agents, but conveniently gets taken out of action early on, which is actually still a better role than the one Halle Berry got to play as the Statesmen's Merlin equivalent.
Poppy isn't the only villain here -- the American president is also a conspiracy theorist's dream, a guy who lies to the country in hopes of cleansing the population. Modern conservatives don't just hate the government, many actually believe it plans on rounding up Americans and putting them into death camps (or worse, taking their guns away), and Bruce Greenwood's idiotic portrayal of the head of state is exactly how they envision things going down in Washington, D.C. Now, it's clear that many people in D.C. want to kill Americans, but that's by taking away their health care, which allows them to profit.
She's also keeping Elton John hostage, which is funny for a scene, but becomes an incredibly old joke fast, especially as he becomes a more integral part of the plot; he's in his Rocket Man-era get-up, and basically becomes like a monkey or a mascot, taking his iconic flamboyance and poking fun decades later.
Another repulsive moment comes midway through the film, when Eggsy is forced to bed a woman in order to acquire some important information. But it's really winds up in some gross, non-consensual acts, with a CGI vagina that you won't forget because of its moral bankruptcy. The whole movie, really, is a supposed fun time, giving you a few early pangs of joy while violating you in ways you never thought possible.