I actually never saw the first Kingsman movie in the theater. That was a mistake; once I watched it at home I loved it. It was ridiculous and simple and yet in many ways completely brilliant in the way in which it reinvented and flipped the tropes of the spy movie into something fun and refreshing. Because of this, I’d been looking forward to Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle pretty much since the first trailer came out. The trailer felt as fun and exciting as the first one and I was really excited to see how Matthew Vaughn managed to expand the world.
One of the hardest parts about writing these reviews is that I often find myself wanting to talk about a concept that I can’t really talk about without spoiling the movie. But this is a rare opportunity because I feel like I can talk about this one without spoiling it at all. Instead I’ll just spoil the first movie. See, I figure if you really care about Kingsman: The Secret Service enough that you’re worried about spoilers, then you already saw it three years ago. And if you didn’t then you either just really like reading whatever crazy shit I have to say about movies or you checked out on the first sentence. So if you’re still here, you’re either a fan of Kingsman or fan of mine and so either way, you probably have a good general idea of what you’re in for when you read whatI have to say. So, before I get into the meat of the review I want to take a brief detour….
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I kind of hate the clickbait world. I especially hate that the clickbait world has sort of invaded the pop culture review world. See, I follow a lot of movie and comic book review sites for my research. I literally can’t NOT read stuff. It’s my job. I’m writing a dissertation that focuses heavily on movies and comic books. So when a comic book movie comes out (and if you didn’t know Kingsman is based on a comic book) I have to be really careful to avoid spoilers before I’ve seen it. This morning I saw a bunch of clickbaity articles popping up all basically saying “Reactions to the CONTROVERSIAL scene in Kingsman 2!”I was annoyed enough at the title alone, and so I refused to read any of them until after I saw the movie. But I had already started forming opinions on what it might be about.
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There’s a pretty controversial thing that happens in the first Kingsman film. It shouldn’t be controversial, but it is. In large part because of the way American film audiences feel about sex. We don’t like it. Actually, that’s not true. We love sex. We just like to pretend we don’t for fucked up reasons that aren’t worth exploring right now. But we really, really, really like to be offended by anything sexual. It’s a problem when deciding on MPAA ratings for movie. One of the biggest films in theaters right now is the movie IT which I reviewed a couple weeks ago. And one of the most controversial things being discussed about that movie now is a scene from the book where the main characters, a bunch of 12 year old kids (aged to 14 for the film) have have an orgy in a sewer. I didn’t get into it when I reviewed it because this is a scene that is not in the movie at all. However, a lot of people have been talking about it lately because it is explained in graphic detail in the book. And by orgy, I mean a gang bang, because the characters are six straight 12yo boys and one straight 12yo girl… so the scene involves the boys lining up to fuck her… at her request. The scene is written from the girl’s point of view and King helpfully tells us each and every detail of the event including which one of the boys actually manages to cum and how she feels about it.
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Anyway, as one might expect people have pretty harsh feelings about that scene. Even though the book was written over thirty years ago and the scene is NOT in the film, people have been talking about it lately and how inappropriate it is. It felt out of place to them. The book really isn’t about sex. And for something that shocking and sexual to happen in a book that is otherwise about abject horror, the reader is taken out of the narrative. In literary terms, diegesis is broken. Even though the scene was left out of the film, many of the reviews have mentioned it only to complain about gross it is and how inappropriate it is for a story to be about children having sex. People are outraged by the very thought of it… to the point that they’re forgetting that they’re talking about a movie where literally five minutes in AN EIGHT YEAR OLD BOY IS EATEN BY A FUCKING CLOWN!!!!
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And that’s the problem with sexuality in American film — particularly any sexuality that is considered deviant. The audience is so preconditioned to reject it, that if you want them to accept it you have to do extra work. You have to prime them for it. The first Kingsman film doesn’t do this. The entire point of the Kingsman film series is to deconstruct the spy genre. It attempts to whole-heartedly embrace all of the many tropes of the James Bond narrative while self-consciously providing commentary on them and reflexively the society that has produced them. For 110 minutes it does this. But then, in minute 111, just as the protagonist, Eggsy Unwin, played by Taron Egerton is rushing off to the final climatic battle, Princess Tilde (played by Hanna Alström), essentially the film’s Bond Girl held hostage by the villain, offers Eggsy the encouragement of “If you save the world, we can do it in the asshole?”
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And that’s where the first film loses everyone. The moment is supposed to be shocking. Matthew Vaughn likes to shock people. He’s done it in other movies. Only, it doesn’t work right because it is too shocking and the audience isn’t ready for it. For all the Bondness of the movie as a whole, there really isn’t any sex in it up until then. There’s lots and lots of violence. According to a Youtube supercut that helpfully did the math for me, 278 people were killed onscreen up till that point in the film… far more than most 007 movies. But there’s no real sex at all. It’s very unBond like. Where the film takes Bond’s penchant for murder and dials it up to 11, it all but ignores his promiscuity up until that point.
There’s an easy fix for this. Eggsy has a female cohort on the Kingsman team named Roxy, played by Sophie Cookson. There is some mild flirtation between them, but for the most part their relationship is platonic. In many ways, she is probably my favorite character in either film, but she is criminally underutilized in both. If the film had simply had Eggsy try to convince Roxy to put out two to three times, only to be rebuffed, the joke with Princess Tilde would have landed much harder. He wouldn’t have even had to say anal sex. If Eggsy had simply been a little sex obsessed throughout, even without getting anywhere, it would have seemed like real motivation for him. If he’d been a horny bastard for nearly two hours the idea of a kinky princess offering buttsex would have seemed really important.
Pussy pussy pussy ASSHOLE!!!!
See, it works. The first time I said the big “pussy pussy pussy” thing it was kind of annoying. But by this point it has just become a trope of this article. So when you see the ASSHOLE, there’s totally a pay off. It’s earned. It’s not that you can’t make an anal joke. You totally can. It just needs to fit. This is the brilliance of Deadpool. The film is sexually charged enough that not only can they make an anal joke, they can actually show Vanessa pegging Wade and it simply works. The point is… much like in real life, kids… you have to work up to anal. It doesn’t work as a surprise. You have to get the recipient loose. You have to make sure they’re ready. Use some lube to ease the way. Maybe offer a popper or two… at least a nice glass of wine. You can’t just go sticking it in.
And all of this is indicative of the second film. In a lot of ways it picks up where the first one left off. Thematically it is very similar. Have a non-conventional villain, inspired by Bond villains, but with a recognizable, if perverted, social message that allows the film to make a social statement. Disguise this with over the top cartoony violence. Mix in a heavy dose of self-referential spy tropes that can move the plot along while also commenting on the spy film genre as a whole. Continue to criminally underutilize Roxy. Toss in some cool gadgets. Have some callback easter egg lines that reference both the original and spy films in general. Do all of those things more so. If you liked the first film, then there’s a lot to like in this one. It’s not as good… but that’s because it is less original, by the very nature of being a sequel. It still has some fun new tricks to pull and a lot of the same old same old that you’ve probably grown to love.
But it does lay into it’s sequelness a lot. This is not a standalone movie. Nothing about it makes sense if you haven’t seen the first film. Massive plot elements require you to know what happened before. Characters aren’t explained, you’re simply expected to care about them because you remember them from the first movie (including several characters who didn’t earn that care in the first movie). In fact, I might suggest rewatching the first film before you see the second one if you’ve only seen it once, because it assumes a lot of familiarity with the first installment. You just won’t understand a lot or care about a lot if you’re not already on board.
Key in point, it apologizes for that anal joke. In fact, it apologizes for the anal joke a lot! More than I wanted it to, honestly. See, Vaughn knows that the joke didn’t work, and he wants you to know that he knows. So the characters tell you that he wants you to know that he knows. Several times. In fact, that’s maybe my biggest problem with the movie over all. You can’t just apologize for anal after the fact. I mean, by god you should… but it’s still not the same as just asking ahead of time. And that’s what this movie does. Several characters make “after you save the world, you know what happens?” jokes. And you can almost feel Vaughn nudging you in the ribs through the screen each time and saying, “See! See what I did there! I’m doing a thing. Did you catch that? I’m doing a thing… I was doing a thing last time and no one understood… so this time I really want you to see that I’m doing a thing. See! See there?” It’s kind of annoying. But you mostly forget about it and can enjoy the movie for what it is.
See, that one didn’t work. And there’s sort of the mistake that Vaughn made. And he did it AGAIN. And this time he clearly did it on purpose. Remember when I said I found out about that there would be a controversial scene, but I went out of my way to not find out what it was. Well, it’s pretty fucking obvious what it is. The problem this time is that Vaughn didn’t quite learn the right lesson. He does prepare for the controversy this time. In fact, the movie literally stops for two minutes so that it can explain to you that something sexual is going to happen. That’s actually a good moment. It’s well done. But the thing is, Vaughn doesn’t just want his laugh… he really wants his SHOCK. So he just goes big with the moment. And see, no matter how much priming I do for you by saying pussy over and over again, I can’t just yell cunt and assume that it’s going to work for you. It’s not the same thing! You’re not ready for it. And it wasn’t really funny. All it serves to do is call attention to itself… and only to make the point that it’s there. There really is a good point that could be made, actually. Pussy is important. It really is. I might totally have a really important point to make about pussy. But my pussy point is lost because I just now said pussy for the one hundredth time in this article and yet the point is lost because it was completely overshadowed by me forcing you to focus on the fact that I just said cunt.
And that’s what Vaughn did in “the scene.” I totally get what he was going for. But it didn’t feel natural. It didn’t feel real. And it wasn’t funny. He totally announces it but he is so focused on trying to be shocking that once again he reaches through the screen and says “Hey guys, look! Look! I’m doing a thing! See!” He is more focused on wanting people to talk about that moment than he is on making the moment work. And so it sticks out… and it doesn’t need to.
So all-in-all I enjoyed the movie. Not as much as the first one but it’s fun enough. And as much time as I spent on this issue, it’s really not enough of the movie to really break it. And in fact, the few things that I really didn’t like about this movie I haven’t mentioned at all just because I wanted to avoid spoilers (if someone cares, start a spoiler thread in the comments and ask me and I’ll explain). So it’s fun, but it has problems. I can’t just unilaterally suggest it like the last one. but it definitely works if you’re a spy movie fan, a silly action fan, or you just really liked the world of the first one.
Also, it has cool suits.
★★★☆☆+🐱 (3 out of 5 stars plus a… uh…. cat)