Don’t ask why, because it’s a Shaggy Dog story and really doesn’t matter beyond setting up a punchline; but midway through “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” super-spy Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) is tasked with inserting a tracker into a woman’s vagina. Said tracker is introduced to said orifice via the wearing of a finger sheath that looks suspiciously like a condom, and of course it does, and of course it should. Because Eggsy is, after all, code named “Galahad” (the most virtuous of King Arthur’s knights, and the one for whom the ladies were offered the most idealized romantic example), he does the right thing: he Facetimes with his fiancé, Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), and urgently requests her permission to stick his finger into another woman’s pink triangle. We all remember that Tilde previously offered (and awarded) Eggsy buttsex for saving the world, so one would be forgiven for assuming she’d be down with this request (it’s for a good cause!), but now she’s got issues, seeing as she’s a woman and monogamous and all that. Thus, Eggsy is forced to choose between doing his duty for Queen and Country through a bit of minor stinkfinger-y, or sacrificing the lives of millions for the selfish love of his one and only. Naturally, he makes the right decision, and in a moment of filmmaking that can only be described as the cinematic, softcore equivalent of a subversive Anne Geddes photo, he dresses his finger with the high-tech prophylactic, locks lips with his target (Poppy Delvingne), and slips one true and unwavering digit down her stomach, under her thong, into her puckered, expectant lips, and sends the tracker into the fiery chasm whence the hopes of all free men now spring. We watch the microscopic device journey into her womanly love tunnel as the score rises triumphantly, the presentation so utterly straight-faced and unashamed of its premise as to defy criticism and fully embrace unrepentant absurdity. It’s truly an epic finger-fucking, verily and forsooth.
This is the lunacy of “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” Matthew Vaughn’s follow-up to his 2014 adaptation of the irreverent comic book from irreverent creators Mark Millar (“Kick Ass!”) and Dave Gibbons (“Watchmen”). With a filmmaker as sly as Vaughn, who routinely tackles material demanding the proper balance of style and kitchen-sink excess, the sequel manages to raise the level of unashamed, over-the-top gratuitousness in a way that forces its audience to surrender to its slick and devious charm. It’s like being fondled in a bar and saying, “Fuck it, keep going; just let me know when you’re finished.” When a film opens with your protagonist swimming home to his girlfriend through a (literal) river of shit and then demanding a kiss from her, you have to just let the movie buy you a drink, sit back, and allow it to have its way with you.
As with its predecessor, “The Golden Circle” is sexy and ultraviolent, like a postmodern “Bond” film hopped up on a case of Monster Energy drinks. The tone is immediately established by a fantastically fast and hilarious car chase punctuated by all of Vaughn’s trademarks: free-floating, hyper-realistic camerawork; balletic set piece construction; stylized violence; anarchic use of pop music; and a gleeful sense of kinky antagonism. From there, it only gets crazier. The way in which the entire Spy Thriller genre is deconstructed with a completely straight face makes “Austin Powers” feel as outmoded as the very films it was riffing on, albeit with one hundred-percent fewer groaners, and a sense of cinematic cool derived from both parodying and embracing its source material in equal measure. SEE: “Hot Fuzz.”
The ludicrousness of the plot – something something involving something involving an evil Martha Stewart-esque drug kingpin (Julianne Moore) with robot attack dogs and a penchant for turning disobedient henchmen into hamburger patties – doesn’t really matter. Events unfold simply because they can. The Kingsman agents are summarily nuked and destroyed, allowing for the returning cast (Egerton, along with Mark Strong and Colin Firth) to become the centerpiece of a new ensemble made up of their CIA counterparts. The Amurrican equivalent of Kingsman – the Statesmen – are a bunch of yee-ha! cowboys operating behind the iconography and culture of alcohol; each one announces his or her ridiculously character-inappropriate name with a straight face. There’s Tequila (Channing Tatum), Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), and Whisky (Pedro Pascal), all of whom sport the best of the worst of Kentucky-fried anachronism. Only be uniting can the Kingman and Statesman agents do whatever the hell the movie’s actually about, as the ultra-British aspects lampooned in the first film seamlessly transition into a scathing attack on U.S. politics, the war on drugs, redneck culture, and Fox News as a reliable source of information.
And yet for all the biting social commentary (Bruce Greenwood’s Presidential character feels appropriately timely, while simultaneously embodying several decades worth of bad voter choices), the performances (“That’ll make you wanna slap you Mama right there,” Tatum purrs as he downs a glass of whiskey with an earnestness that’s off-putting), and the bizarrely-appropriate cameos (Elton John inherits the buttsex gag here in the sequel because he’s Elton John, and he’s awesome), the most unexpected component of “The Golden Circle” is its soft underbelly. Eggsy’s relationship with Firth’s Harry Hart, and the latter’s performance of a man lost to himself, finds poignancy within the gleeful madness that surrounds it; and the film’s climax, anchored by Mark Strong, delivers the finest, most stirring, and hilariously profound use of John Denver’s “Country Roads” set to film. Like this year’s “Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 2,” the emotional resonance is used sparingly, and effectively.
While Vaughn’s wicked sense of humor powers his “Kingsman” films with wonderful decadence, there still shines that sense of optimism that rendered his underappreciated “Stardust” the “Princess Bride” of a generation that never was. It’s a secret weapon that re-emerges in “The Golden Circle,” and continues to lurk in the periphery, awaiting the right film to be set loose. But who’s complaining? A film this fresh and fun is – just like buttsex – a rare and wonderful thing to be enjoyed on the welcome occasion during which it’s offered.
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Written by Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn