Kingsman: The Golden Circle ★★

'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' is an incredibly interesting movie, but it unfortunately just does not come together for me at all. It reminds me a lot of 'Valerian'-- singular stylistic visions, great effects, some phenomenal set pieces, some of the best single scenes of the year (the extended final fight scene here was bonkers in all the right ways), and yet on a script and character level they're both utter letdowns. Without the source material the first film had to fall back upon, this sequel finds itself meandering around (especially in its second act) for no real reason plot wise. The ideas explored here almost seem random: our villain is a mass drug-dealer obsessed with 1970s nostalgia for 1950s Americana, and her character accounts to nothing despite her description. The same goes for the heavily marketed Statesman, the idea of an American-version of the Kingsman is fun, but there just isn't enough there to make them stand out besides the occasional presence of well-known actors. There isn't enough here on a simple storytelling-level to keep the film afloat either, emotional connections are cut short by the confounding pacing and over-presence of tonally distinct sub-plots and really take away from the main narrative; I miss the focus of the original film is what I'm getting at. The first film had a steady character arc that formed the backbone of a pretty insane plot, whereas the character developments here almost feel like subplots of their own. The lack of focus reaches peak volume in the middle section, and the movie becomes honestly pretty boring at times, with at many times even the humor feeling forced in this part of the film. The best thing about this film is by far its ending, where the movie decides, "screw it", and just goes for an over-the-top extended action sequence where all the ideas and visuals are quickly streamlined in that great way that only director Matthew Vaughn can do; the movie at this point also looses any seriousness and goes full cartoon, not that I'm complaining, I loved this part. If there's one film from this year that I wish 'Kingsman' had emulated it would have to be 'John Wich: Chapter 2', in which yes it does build on the predecessor's silliness, but it also introduces new themes while also expands on the old ones, as well as further detailing our returning characters. 'Kingsman' unfortunately just doesn't have enough substance to justify its existence, so despite the great direction and the efforts of the actors, the whole thing just ultimately fizzled out of me. I'd still love a third film in the franchise, but man, they've got to really think through things on the next one.

TLDR: Put your fears to rest, Elton John is great-- but he's a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster flick.

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