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Kingsman sequel 'Golden Circle' starts strong but finishes flat
Channing Tatum and Halle Berry in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle." - photo by Josh Terry
KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE 2 stars Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry; R (sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material); in general release

After a strong start, Kingsman: The Golden Circle director Matthew Vaughns follow-up to his 2014 effort Kingsman: The Secret Service settles into predictable sequel territory. For an early fall action movie, it will do the job, but its weaknesses are pretty obvious.

Vaughn doesnt waste any time getting us into the action. The protagonist, British hooligan-turned-gentleman agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) barely sets foot outside the front door of his secret spy headquarters before his robotic-armed former classmate Charlie (Edward Holcroft) accosts him and triggers a high-speed chase through the streets of London. Its all in a days work for Eggsy, who is balancing his work for Kingsman against a romantic relationship with Tilde (Hanna Alstrm), the Swedish princess he rescued at the end of the previous film.

But before Eggsy and fellow agent Merlin (Mark Strong) can begin to connect the dots that led Charlie to Kingsman headquarters, a missile barrage takes out the rest of the organization. Luckily, a Doomsday Protocol guides them to a similar organization in the United States called the Statesmen, which also happens to have taken in Eggsys mentor Harry (Colin Firth) after his supposedly fatal encounter in the previous film.

Harry is very much alive, but not doing so well, at least mentally. Merlins brainy Statesmen equivalent Ginger (Halle Berry) has been working to help him recover his memory without any luck. In the meantime, the Statesmen led by Champ (Jeff Bridges) and Tequila (Channing Tatum, playing a spy version of his Logan Lucky character) want to get to the people behind the attacks, who seem to be united by a mysterious tattoo in the shape of a golden circle.

The Golden Circle is revealed once its international drug lord leader Poppy (Julianne Moore) launches a diabolical plan to kill millions of recreational drug users with a lethal product strain, unless world leaders like the U.S. president (Bruce Greenwood) are willing to legalize all hard drugs. In a comic twist, the POTUS sees the sudden death of users as a quick way to win the long-standing war on drugs, but the Statesmen and remaining Kingsman set out to stop Poppy and save the world anyway.

Like 2014s original, Golden Circle marries its familiar James Bond British spy content to super-stylish action, bloody comic violence and irreverent humor. And, once again, Vaughn implies that all Americans are derived from some kind of stereotypical hillbilly in Kentucky. There are some fun moments, and a surprise cameo from a famous British rock star who will remain nameless here, but there are also some obvious flaws that undercut Golden Circles impact.

For example, while the marketing of "Golden Circle" might make audiences expect Egerton to join up with Tatum as a kind of buddy spy tandem, the drug toxin quickly sidelines Tequila, and instead Eggsy sets off on his mission with Whisky (Pedro Pascal), a Statesman agent with a very special lasso.

When the aforementioned British rock star gets about as much screen time as Bridges and Tatum combined, the great cast of "Golden Circle" loses a little of its luster, and frankly, the toxin angle feels a little like a rehash, combined with its milquetoast social commentary.

The action scenes help move things along, but after those dramatic opening scenes, Golden Circle slows down for quite a while before things pick up again. Vaughn could have lost about 15 minutes off the 141-minute run time and finished with a much sleeker product.

But, for fans of the first film, Kingsman: Golden Circle hits enough familiar notes to be entertaining, even if a little time and perspective may leave audiences struggling to remember what it was about.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material; running time: 141 minutes.