Whooshing by on screen like James Bond on laughing gas, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a breathlessly comic, sometimes exhausting sequel to the surprise 2015 smash that all but begged for an R-rated follow-up. Now it's here – and just as manic and over-the-top as you'd expect, only more so (the film is 141 minutes long). Those who hated the first film will be twice as irritated. Screw 'em. True Kingsman fans will appreciate that director Matthew Vaughn reacted to digs at The Secret Service for being gratuitously violent, sexually adolescent and politically reactionary by laying all of it on three times thicker.
Based on characters created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons for their 2012 comic book series, the sequel still concerns those Brit Secret service agents who hide their activities behind the elegant façade of Kingsman, a tailor shop on Saville Row that fronts for their spy game. Most of the old gang is back, especially the hugely appealing Taron Egerton as Gary "Eggsy" Unwin, the London street kid recruited into service by Oscar winner Colin Firth as 007-ish agent Harry Hart, code-named Galahad (the spies all have names of knights). There's even a Merlin (Mark Strong) to teach them tricks of the trade.
But wait – didn't Firth's character die in the first film? The movie grossed $414 million worldwide ... which means Galahad only got shot in the eye and lost his memory. (Thank you, the healing power of economics.) Logic is the first thing to go when there's new money to be minted. The upshot? Galahad gets an eye patch and is thrown back into the fray.
How do you make a sequel without repeating yourself? You don't – not really. But Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman give it a try by blowing up the Kingsman HQ. The dirty deed is perpetrated by Poppy Adams (a delicious, demented Julianne Moore), a drug-cartel boss with the big, fake smile and ingratiating manner of a psycho TV weather lady. She literally grinds up people who annoy her. To take on Poppy and her Golden Circle, the gents join forces with Statesman, its Kentucky-based counterpart. That organisation is run by Jeff Bridges as Champagne; you can call him Champ. His team includes Channing Tatum (Tequila), Pedro Pascal (Whiskey) and Halle Berry (Ginger Ale), who handles IT for the group. Did we mention that Elton John shows up? Perhaps we shouldn't.
The stunts defy the laws of gravity, but are no less fun for that; watch out for the fight on the ski lift. Even when Kingsman: The Golden Circle goes off the rails, and it inevitably does, this cracked caper wears you down with action and giggles. Sometimes overkill can hurt so good.