Kingsman: The Golden Circle
“If you’re at all squeamish about the casual violation of women, both onscreen or narratively, then skip this film.”
Title: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Director: Matthew Vaughn 👨🏼🇬🇧
Writers: Matthew Vaughn 👨🏼🇬🇧 and Jane Goldman 👩🏼🇬🇧
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
When Kingsman: The Secret Service came out in 2014, I was wildly entertained by Matthew Vaughn’s signature style of over-the-top action. Sure, the film already contained racial stereotyping and misogyny, but the nostalgia of chivalry and the Cinderella story of a dead-end chav transforming into a debonair spy was too enjoyable to derail my enthusiasm.
Fast-forward a few years, and those same attributes have become exaggerated into the carnival sideshow that is The Golden Circle. Instead of tapping into chivalry, Kingsman agents condescendingly protect and override women. And instead of an endearing tale of rags to riches, the lead hero Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is just rich now, dating a princess and suddenly much harder to root for.
In fairness, the glossy veneer of The Golden Circle does remain. It boasts some creative fight scenes. But the persistent sense that you’re watching a grotesque pantomime of its predecessor is inescapable. Or as Matthew Lickona puts it:
“[The Golden Circle is] bloated, self-conscious, and smug, with only the occasional flash of nasty wit to put the edge on.”
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NOPE
The Golden Circle spawned reviews from major publications boasting titles such as ‘Kingsman sequel wallows in stereotypes, sexism’, or ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle and the Glorification of Sexual Assault’, and my favorite piece of the bunch, ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle Is a Misogynistic Mess’ by Ira Madison III for The Daily Beast.
In his article, Madison describes what is far and away the film’s most egregious misfire:
“Eggsy travels to Glastonbury Festival to place a tracker on a villain's [girlfriend] and has to finger her to place a tracking device in her bloodstream. This is complete with a unneeded CGI scene that literally jumps into the character's vagina, showing the tracking device as it settles into her body...It's being invasive to a woman's body for comic value.”
It’s hardly just this scene, either. From Princess Tilde to Roxy to Ginger Ale, played by Hanna Alström, Sophie Cookson, and Halle Berry, each are clinical studies in sexism. Only the lead villain, Poppy (Julianne Moore), manages to escape offense, but even then she’s utterly tokenized, surrounded by an ever-present sea of men. If you're interested in specifics, Madison's article breaks it down perfectly.
In short, if you’re at all squeamish about the casual violation of women, both onscreen or narratively, then skip this film. Or at least skip your lunch beforehand.
The Golden Circle does make a bit of headway here in comparison to the first film. Not too difficult a feat, considering how The Secret Service proffered a white-centric vision of London and villainized its only characters of color, or—in a very minor role—marginalized Eggsy’s token black friend.
Here, Vaughn assembles a slightly diverse team to serve as the American arm of Kingsman. Two members are non-white: agent Whiskey is played by Pedro Pascal, who is Latino by way of Chile. Tech geek Ginger Ale is played by Halle Berry, who is mixed race black. Both roles are neither glorified nor demonized, and I appreciate Whiskey’s significant screen time. In comparison, Ginger Ale is noticeably flat and under-utilized.
The location lends itself to a bit of color as well. Cambodia serves as the foothold for Poppy’s opium trade, so a small number of Asian extras filter in and out of background shots as poppy farmers. On the flipside, this inclusion could actually have a net negative effect, as it perpetuates the concept of Cambodia as a drug-addled backwater, not unlike the way Mexico is disproportionately painted as a drug den (the Sicario films or TV shows like Narcos, Breaking Bad, and Better Call Saul come to mind). These entrenched reputations have real-life ramifications, especially when disseminated abroad to massive, global audiences.
Mediaversity Grade: F 1.92/5
I already had to turn a blind eye to the casual racism and sexism of the first Kingsman movie and naively hoped that Vaughn would check himself in the sequel so that I could get back to enjoying his crazy action sequences. Instead, the director doubles down on his missteps.
"I like to push boundaries," he says, defending the vagina scene that has been panned by critics. "I'm not interested in homogenized, bland cinema, the sort of movies made-by-committee in Hollywood."
It’s ridiculous that Vaughn conflates the violation of a woman’s body with being interesting. Why does he think Kick-Ass (2010) put him on the map in the first place? It was just as violent and cartoonish as The Golden Circle, but it never felt self-congratulatory or predatory.
In Vaughn’s grasping for one-upsmanship, he’s dug himself into a hole that is looking increasingly uninviting. It’s a shame, too; I love a good action movie, and the world of Kingsman is a glitzy, entertaining one. But when its chapters increasingly make my skin crawl, I have to draw the line somewhere.