Kingsman: The Golden Circle a high-tempo exercise in gizmo-laden blandness
START as you mean to go on. Director Matthew Vaughn's high-octane spy caper sequel opens with a digitally enhanced bang: an outlandish fight sequence inside a London taxi, aptly choreographed to Prince's foot-stomping anthem Let's Go Crazy.
The cab careens through night-time streets while metal and glass explode in de rigueur slow motion, punches connect and somersaults defy gravity.
"Let's get nuts!" shrieks Prince.
Vaughn and co-writer Jane Goldman heartily concur. Over the next two hours, they resurrect characters, who clearly perished in the first film, transform a cable car into a waltzer fairground ride and mince up bumbling henchmen for the deranged villain's homemade burgers.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle quickly accelerates into the same preposterous groove as its 2015 predecessor, which introduced us to a secret fraternity of impeccably tailored British agents.
Vaughn and Goldman dilute the repugnant traits of the first film – crude sexism, gleeful on-screen sadism – and leave us with a high-tempo exercise in gizmo-laden blandness that won't shake or stir fans of the Bond franchise and its imitators.
The sole zinging addition to this expensive cocktail is Elton John, playing a deliciously potty-mouthed exaggeration of himself. Clad in feathers, sequins and frou-frou, the rocket man is out of this world.
Council estate hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is slowly coming to terms with the death of Kingsman mentor Harry (Colin Firth), supported by Swedish girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), who offered herself up like a piece of meat at the end of the first film.
Their joy is extinguished when drugs cartel kingpin Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), loopy mastermind of a new world order called The Golden Circle, razes the Kingsman headquarters and terminates the serving agents.
Eggsy and technical support guru Merlin (Mark Strong) emerge unscathed from the rubble. Retribution begins in a Kentucky distillery, which is a front for Kingsman's swaggering Transatlantic counterparts, Statesman.
The American operation's liquor-swilling head honcho, Champagne (Jeff Bridges), partners Eggsy and Merlin with agents Tequila (Channing Tatum) and Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), who whip-cracks a mean electrified lasso. Meanwhile, Merlin pairs up with Statesman's bespectacled gadget geek, Ginger Ale (Halle Berry).
The team criss-crosses the globe and edges closer to Poppy's jungle lair, where Elton John is held hostage as her private ivory-tinkling slave.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an exhausting blitzkrieg of hyper-stylised mayhem that squanders new additions to the cast. Logic is repeatedly sacrificed at the altar of cartoonish calamity.
Vaughn knows how to land blows in dizzying skirmishes but the tender emotional moments, including a heartfelt rendition of John Denver and a tepid romance between Eggsy and his Swedish princess, fail to connect.
A marginal improvement on the original, but the bar was set depressingly low.
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (15, 141 mins) Action/Comedy/Romance. Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Halle Berry, Hanna Alstrom, Elton John. Director: Matthew Vaughn