First things first. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not a good movie. Even approached with the watered-down expectations that one brings to a late-September Hollywood sequel, Matthew Vaughn’s bespoke secret-agent follow-up is massively disappointing. More than that, it’s dispiriting — a too campy, tonally schizophrenic barrage of idiotic plot twists, wasted star cameos, and over-the-top gags that aren’t nearly as entertaining as their creators think they are. It’s rare to see so much thrown at the screen and so little of it sticking.

When the first Kingsman came out in 2015, it at least had the cheeky novelty of watching a career fuddy-duddy like Colin Firth cutting loose and unleashing his inner badass. He was a lockjawed Oxbridge toff dishing out beatdowns while passing along the finer points of tailoring and spycraft to his street-kid protegé, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). And, for the first half at least, it worked. But Golden Circle just feels lazy and self-aware. It’s Vaughn’s Ocean’s Twelve.

Credit: Giles Keyte/Fox

Code-named Galahad after the death of his mentor, Eggsy is now a full-fledged member of the Kingsmen — a covert Arthurian society of gentlemen operatives. This time out, the world is being threatened by a drug lord named Poppy, who’s played by Julianne Moore with a psycho June Cleaver sweet tooth for ’50s nostalgia. Why? Who knows. Poppy has laced her product with a virus that turns its users into dancing fools with blue spider veins. Poppy decimates the ranks of the Kingsmen aside from Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong, the sole bright spot), who go into exile to rebuild from the ashes with the help of a Kentucky-based organization that includes Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Jeff Bridges, and Channing Tatum (who’s introduced in flashy Foghorn Leghorn style only to then vanish for most of the movie). Oh, and Elton John is on hand in a shock collar because someone thought that would be hilarious (it kind of is…until it’s not). I’m not getting into how a certain character — psst, see the photo above — returns from the dead. Okay, it involves amnesia. Amnesia, folks!

The Golden Circle has a few of the comically brutal spasms of action that gave the first film its caffeinated energy, but they don’t have the same bonkers Oddjob kick of Sofia Boutella and her lethal legblades. Instead, there’s just more of everything else, including Vaughn’s leering boys-will-be-boys humor. If the first Kingsman, at its best, felt like a dry martini of a joke, then this one is more Jack and Mountain Dew — unsubtle, unrefreshing, and unnecessary. C–

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
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