Kingsman: The Secret Service introduced the world to Kingsman. In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, our heroes face a new challenge when their headquarters are destroyed and the world is held hostage. Their journey leads them to the discovery of an allied spy organization in the US called Statesman, and in a new adventure, these two elite, secret organizations band together to defeat a ruthless common enemy in order to save the world, something that's becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Kingsman: The Golden Circle on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, Audio and Final Thoughts sections.
Before we're even given a chance to reacquaint ourselves with Eggsy Unwin (a charmingly perfect Taron Egerton), the rebellious hero of the first Kingsman movie, we're quickly thrust into the thick of the action in the Matthew Vaughn directed The Golden Circle. Charlie Hesketh (Edward Holcroft, who has somehow mastered the art of scowling with an arrogant smile), a former Kingsman recruit later turned enemy informant, attempts to kidnap Eggsy while also sporting a new mechanical arm with its own WiFi connectivity. The failed abduction quickly spirals into vehicular mayhem down the busy streets of London's nightlife, as the undercover taxicab weaves through traffic, narrowly missing every other car on the road, while the two former trainees duke it out in the backseat. For the next few minutes, the entire screen erupts with impossible stunts and amplified action made possible thanks to the latest in CG technology — literally, what can be imagined can now be made a reality. And for this sequel, obviously going for bigger and better, Vaughn and his crew let their imaginations run wild and attempt to top themselves at every turn.
The fun and success of this satirical comedy adventure is its familiarity with the espionage thriller, borrowing specifically and heavily from the James Bond franchise, while also both embellishing and subverting the very spy genre it aspires to take part in. It doesn't so much take apart the tropes for some deeper analysis, as it simply pushes them to their extreme absurdity and relishes in the illogical silliness of it all. In this opening, edge-of-your-seat moment, Vaughn clearly takes delight in defying expectations, not giving audiences the usual beginning where we catch up with our hero after the events of the first movie or provide the customary exposition that explains the new villain who heads a criminal organization hell-bent on world domination. Instead, we're given a long action sequence that feels like a live-action cartoon while setting the plot into motion, but still leaving us in mystery. It's only after the threat is supposedly resolved that we learn Eggsy has taken the title of Galahad, is in a committed relationship with the Crown Princess Tilde of Sweden (Hanna Alström) and feels more threatened by the thought of meeting her parents than nearly being killed.
To expect anything less than complete absurdity in a sequel inspired by a wildly fantastical graphic novel is itself a ridiculous expectation, especially given its stupendously bombastic opening. These movies are about reveling in the insanity of fights, explosions, and gunfire no mere human could ever possibly survive and which Bond only wishes could ever walk away from while wearing a clean-cut, expensive suit. And in keeping with the preposterous, we need an equally fanciful criminal mastermind capable of presenting our hero with the actual prospect of failing to save the world, someone with the charisma to devise an elaborate and darkly perverse plot while harboring a unique deformity, either physical or psychological. Thankfully, Julianne Moore as the leader of the world's largest drug cartel Poppy Adams slides into the role like a comfortable pair of warm house slippers, a sickly sunny and always smiling crooked genius with a penchant for 1950s Americana and a love for Elton John. Ms. Moore is an absolute delight as she cooks a hamburger from scratch using the fresh meat of her enemies to feed her new recruits as a test of loyalty.
In The Golden Circle, Moore's wickedly evil charm is her nostalgic wholesomeness disguising a cleverly topical scheme, one which ruins the Kingsman to their foundation, both literally and figuratively. Partnering with tech wizard Merlin (Mark Strong, who gives a memorably outlandish rendition John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads"), Eggsy travels across the Atlantic to collaborate with another secret agency hidden beneath a whiskey distillery in Kentucky, known as the Statesman. There, we meet another ensemble of cartoon super spies lead by a grumbling Jeff Bridges grouchily growling orders to gadget guru Halle Berry, stern party animal Channing Tatum and the ultra-cool, lasso-wielding Pedro Pascal. At times, the movie runs the risk of feeling bloated and somewhat episodic, swiftly jumping from one adventure to the next, but Vaughn keeps the momentum focused on a single objective while giving Eggsy plenty of space to grow as a character. It's an outrageously fun follow-up that asks us to revel in the absurdity because the war on drugs has never been this ridiculously silly.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings Kingsman: The Golden Circle to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. The Region A locked, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 inside a blue, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. A couple skippable trailers kick things off before switching to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The Kingsman save the world once again from a sadistically perverse criminal mastermind on Blu-ray with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, showing well-defined lines in the fine-stitched suits and various other articles of clothing. Whether in London, Kentucky or Poppy's retro town in the jungles of Cambodia, the lettering on shop windows and signs is always intelligible, the architectural details of buildings are distinct from a distance, and the smallest objects decorating the background are plainly visible. Facial complexions are highly revealing, especially in close-ups, exposing every negligible blemish, pore and wrinkle. Shot on the Arri Alexa camera systems, the video comes with a very digital, sterile polish that isn't attractive, several unexpectedly soft moments and a few instances of very mild aliasing along the sharpest edges.
Aside from that, the high-def transfer is beautiful with spot-on contrast, providing the presentation with a buoyant, high-spirited feel even during the most intensely action-packed sequences. The picture also displays brilliant, crisp whites throughout, but highlights occasionally appear hotter than normal or blown out, washing away some of the finer details in those spots. Thankfully, black levels remain accurate and richly rendered with outstanding visibility within the darkest shadows, providing the 2.39:1 image with a welcomed cinematic appeal and dimensionality. Being based on a colorful graphic novel series, the filmmakers went with a vibrant color palette, showering the screen with radiant, animated primaries and a dynamic array of secondary hues while favoring a yellow and golden amber sheen that reflects the plot's themes.
In spite of all the fancy gadgets and high-tech weaponry, the colorfully cartoonish sequel fights world domination equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack that falls just short of reference quality. Don't get me wrong, the track definitely comes with several demo-worthy moments fans will absolutely love blasting as loud as possible. The design is bombastically loud and at times, deliberately aggressive during the many action sequences, as debris from explosions scatter across the room, objects fly through the air and the swish from either the lasso or the whip rush between the surrounds. Meanwhile, the rocking music bleeds into the sides and rears with passionate, animated enthusiasm. It's moments like these that are highly engaging and make the movie a great deal of fun. However, quieter, dialogue-driven scenes are sorely lacking and noticeably silent, which is arguably understandable but also somewhat dissatisfying for an action-adventure flick when those same scenes take place in the jungle and the bustling city.
Ultimately making this a win against the world's largest drug cartel is the front soundstage, sprawling with a variety of background activity to generate an expansive, spacious wall of sound. Displaying excellent balance and fidelity from start to finish, atmospherics occupy the off-screen space convincingly while other action effects effortlessly pan across the three front channels. The mid-range is extensive and impressively dynamic, maintaining superb distinction and separation during the loudest, ear-piercing moments while also providing the rambunctious song selections with extraordinary, room-penetrating clarity. Amid the sonorous mayhem, vocals remain precise and well-prioritized. Low-frequency effects occasionally deliver a thunderous, commanding mid-bass, giving those same action sequences and bumping music a great sense of presence and couch-rattling oomph.
Kingsman: Inside the Golden Circle (HD, 117 min): Collection of nine featurettes that play like a documentary exhaustively covering every aspect of the production, from inception to post-production.
Black Cab Chaos (HD, 13 min): Closer look at the action-packed opening sequence with BTS footage.
Kingsman Archives (HD): A pair of still galleries containing six more sets of photos from the production.
Directly following up on the events on the first movie, Kingsman: The Golden Circle immediately throws the audience into the thick of the action, learning about what the heck is going along with the film's heroes. Taron Egerton and Mark Strong reprise their roles in an action-adventure sequel dripping in tongue-in-cheek absurdity and over-the-top silliness while introducing new well-endowed spies Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges to do battle against the wickedly charming and delightfully sinister Julianne Moore.
The Blu-ray goes on a covert mission equipped with an excellent picture quality and an even better audio presentation. Supplements may not appear like much, but looks can be deceiving, thanks to a surprisingly exhaustive documentary. At the end of the day, fans are recommended to pour themselves a whiskey or a martini and simply enjoy the ride.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.