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— Tate Donovan, Hercules

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Team Kingsman can’t overcome the nefarious sophomore slump.

Mojo Sinking

Taron Egerton is Galahad, also known as Eggsy
Taron Egerton is Galahad, also known as Eggsy

An aggressive opening transitions from the John Denver classic Take Me Home, Country Roads played on bagpipes to a wild taxi chase through the streets of London, loaded with some crazy flare — including a sideways-driving car, a mechanical arm, mounted machine guns and a cab that converts into a submersible like in The Spy Who Loved Me — all backed by Prince songs.

It’s a good start, but the energy doesn’t last.

Maybe it’s the lack of Mark Hamill, Sofia Boutella and Michael Caine. Or maybe it’s the shift in focus for the emotional center. Most likely, it’s a combination of those elements — and more — that makes this sequel a little less fun and less satisfying than its progenitor. It’s not that The Golden Circle is particularly bad, but it certainly doesn’t build on the momentum and goodwill Kingsman: The Secret Service generated.

Amid the subversiveness and over-the-top madness of The Secret Service, there was a bit of heart to be found in the hard-life back story of young Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Eddie the Eagle) and his family problems. Now it’s switched over to his romantic relationship with the Swedish princess he bedded at the end of the first episode.

Throw in an overzealous drug czar, Poppy (Julianne Moore, The Big Lebowski) plus the disappointing introduction of an American sister agency called Statesman and the end result is a lot of action with minimal impact.

Suited and Booted

As before, the quirkiness of the villains in the world of Kingsman is countered with the straight-laced, stiff-upper-lip demeanor of the heroes. The hope was the introduction of the American agents, based in Kentucky and running under the cover of a whiskey distillery, would add some quirkiness to the good guys, but not so much. Actually, the Statesman team is rather disappointing and bland.

Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky), as Tequila, features heavily in the promotional materials, but his role is minor. Believe it or not, Elton John (as Elton John, Poppy’s personal pop star) has a bigger part in the antics. Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), as Champagne (call him “Champ”) is a non-entity outside Statesman HQ. There’s also Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, The Great Wall), who looks an awful lot like Burt Reynolds in the 1970s. A pleasant surprise, however, is nerdy-looking Halle Berry (X-Men: Days of Future Past) as Ginger Ale (a great character name). As Statesman’s version of Q, she isn’t given all that much to do here, but she gives reason to hope for the inevitable third episode.

Following a sabotage mission that destroys virtually all of Kingsman’s British and European assets, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong, Sherlock Holmes) head over to Kentucky to find help in combatting Poppy’s plan. What they really need is assistance in wading through the screenplay’s busy agenda.

There’s Poppy’s plan to poison her own drugs in order to hold her antidote for the deadly Blue Rash as a global ransom. Plus, Harry Hart (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) is back, but his memory needs to be rebooted. Eggsy’s relationship with the Swedish Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom, Sami Blood) goes through some horribly handled romantic strains. Then there’s the Statesman; integrating these new agents into the narrative is less than seamless. A lot of storylines to juggle in the 140-minute run-time, but none of them are particularly engaging.

Wednesday Night’s All Right for Fighting

Following on Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine, a villain with a lisp, in The Secret Service, this time around the villain is Poppy, a woman with a fetish for all things 1950s. Some of her shtick is interesting, such as the village she created for her drug production facilities. It’s a quaint Main Street replica, complete with a diner and a movie theatre (with marquees promoting Elton John titles like Captain Fantastic! and The Bitch Is Back). In another Elton John reference, the software running her empire is called Bennie. All of this is in an unexpected location: in the heart of ancient ruins in Cambodia.

Poppy brands her henchmen with a 24-carat gold circle and she’s no wallflower herself. She has no problem shoving men into a meat grinder, grilling the meat and serving up hamburgers (manburgers?).

It kind of make sense, then, that Poppy comes across as a kitchen sink villain. She’s got it all: mechanical dogs with a vicious bite, drones, antidotes stored around the world, Elton John and a nice polka dot dress. In some respects, there are a whole bunch of cool ideas in there, but the execution is too superficial for its own good. Even with men in the meat grinder, there isn’t enough of an ominous presence. That’s no fault of Moore’s; blame it on writer/director Matthew Vaughn and his co-writer from The Secret Service, Jane Goldman.

With so many ideas and possibilities bouncing around, the most impressive thing about this concoction is how much of a void is left in The Golden Circle.