• by Wes Singleton

Kingsmen: Golden Circle, B-

Rated R, 141 minutes

The distinctly British and distinctly entertaining spy sequel "Kingsmen: Golden Circle" is messy, unfocused fun and lighter in tone than its predecessor. Lacking the grit, wit and originality of the 2015 hit "Kingsmen: The Secret Service" it still comes packed with an all-star cast, including a scene-stealing turn from an iconic pop singer.

With their headquarters destroyed and the world held hostage, members of Kingsman Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) find new allies when they discover a spy organization in the United States known as Statesman. In an adventure that tests their strength and wits, the elite secret agents from both sides of the pond band together to battle a ruthless criminal mastermind and drug cartel head named Poppy (Julianne Moore) and save the day, something that's becoming a bit of a habit for Eggsy.

The overlong, ambitious yet still engaging "Kingsmen: Golden Circle" can be trusted for a some decent action set pieces and some funny bits, though it lacks the dark edge of the first film with a narrative that is all over the place. Directed and written by "The Secret Service's" Matthew Vaughn and based on the "Kingsmen" comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, it's certainly not lacking in energy, though the originality and dark humor that made the first a surprise hit is lacking here.

Vaughn would've been wiser to shave about 20 minutes from a saggier middle act, in which he takes too long to get Oscar-winner Colin Firth's Harry back into the game. In the meantime, we're treated to a load of new characters, including Oscar-winner Halle Berry, "Logan Lucky's" Channing Tatum, "Game of Thrones" star Pedro Pascal and Oscar-winner (there are several of them in this movie, an impressive feat all by itself, though they're not all on screen together at the same time) Jeff Bridges as fellow American spies, as well as Julianne Moore (another Oscar-winner, but who's counting) as the chief villain, who's intent is on bringing the world down through drugs.

Out of all the Oscar-winning stars here, the one who steals "Golden Circle" is yet another Oscar-winner, pop star Elton John, playing a version of himself. Sure, he sings a little (and his classic song "Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)" is used perfectly here in the climactic battle), but he cusses, punches and kicks - in his trademark high heels, no less too - as good as any of the real spies do, and his promise of a backstage concert pass for saving the world is one of the film's better lines.

In between all the fights and action, "Golden Circle's" story about the impact of drugs on the world, doesn't take hold like it should, even with the presence of a rogue U.S. president with Trump-like actions. The dark humor and violence of "The Secret Service" seems a little watered down here in favor of its likable, all-star cast, and on that note, outside of Pascal and maybe even Berry, some of the others, including Bridges, Tatum and even Firth, have little to do here.

Still, "Kingsmen: Golden Circle" has enough charm and action to please those who enjoyed the first. It's a likable, overlong outing that's not as fun or as memorable as it pretends to be.

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