You can't go five minutes in Kingsman: The Golden Circle without seeing an Oscar-winner — there are four of them in the cast — gulping whiskey, and after 140 minutes you may find yourself eager to join them.
The cheeky, efficient spy romp that writer-director Matthew Vaughn adapted from Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar's comic-book series — beginning with 2014's Kingsman: The Secret Service — has come down with a slight case sequel-itis. There's lots of CGI, more stars and extreme character makeovers, and an expanded running time to accommodate all of it.
The movie would be even longer if it tried to make sense, but it's gone aggressively bonkers. Key characters who died gruesome deaths in the original come back to life here (surrounded, for good measure, by imaginary butterflies). In the sequel more important characters die, but that hardly matters — Vaughn bends time and space (Kentucky and the U.K. become neighboring states) and death to suit his whimsical purposes, and nothing is permanent.
Certainly not the streetwise appeal of the movie's main character, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), a blue-collar kid brought into a posh, private British spy agency, taught tradecraft and manners (by Colin Firth), and sent out to protect the world from evil and shoddy tailoring.
In The Golden Circle, he has more than good manners. In fact, he's fully domesticated. The Nordic blonde (Hanna Alstrom) he acquired at the end of Kingsman: The Secret Service is now his live-in girlfriend and the heir to some Scandinavian throne, and she is fitting Eggsy for a crown.
Eggsy's cultural dislocation is still a feature of The Golden Circle, but it's taken a new form. When his agency sustains a major hit, Eggsy and colleague Merlin (Mark Strong) link up with their American "equivalents," initiating a friendly rivalry in which neither group concedes to having an equal. Bourbon versus single malt, literally and metaphorically.
The Statesmen, as they are known, operate under the cover of massively successful alcohol conglomerate based in Kentucky, run by Jeff Bridges, staffed by Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Narcos' Pedro Pascal (doing a fantastic impersonation of 1970s Burt Reynolds).
Their adversary is demented drug trafficker named Poppy, played by Julianne Moore, perhaps selected for her work in the straight-faced 1950s facsimile Far From Heaven. Here she's like a crazed June Cleaver, wearing an apron while operating an international drug cartel from a Cambodian religious shrine redecorated with '50s themes — not based on the actual '50s, but on her understanding of the era as seen though 1970s TV.
Vaughn's own world seems cobbled together from movies and TV — the Bond-movie bespoke tools of the Kingsman, the lariats and lever-action Winchesters that form the iconography of the Statesman (Tatum does a pretty good Chuck Connors trick with his rifles).
All of this goes into Vaughn's cockeyed pop-culture Cuisinart (much as henchmen go into Poppy's meat grinder). Add the bourbon and the single malt and you have an action-and-image cocktail that sometimes Vaughn seems to be enjoying more than the viewer.
The movie needs an editor, or a bartender, to remind the director when he's hit the two-hour mark: Last orders, Mr. Vaughn.