I know it's been a while. Life in the world of your Pajamazon has been...crowded. But that would be another post. Anyway, last night I saw Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Now, with one or two complaints I dug the first Kingsman flick. It was bombastic, over the top, beautifully shot and just fun. (I could've done without the hostage Princess offering anal for a rescue and the final scene of the film. And while the violence was gratuitous to me, I also accepted that it was just part of the movie's aesthetic and personality.)
Uber short version: My thoughts on Kingsman 2 are almost identical to my thoughts on Kingsman the first.
This movie is so fun. This movie is so fucking flawed, and it's sad because one or two tweaks and this movie could have gone from good to great.
Basic plot: A drug cartel takes out all but three agents of the Kingsmen. They go to their American counterparts, the Statesmen, to team up and take out this cartel before millions of people die of tainted drugs.
First off, let's talk about what this movie did right:
- It's beautifully shot, the aesthetic is so clean and specific, and the imagery is bold. It is a pretty film. I love the gadgets, the sleek clothes, the cars, the chases, the fights. They look spectacular.
- The actors are phenomenal. Mark Strong and Colin Firth will always put me in a seat, but Teran Edgerton (Eggsy) has really grown since that last film. I feel like he really sold it. With Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum and a surprisingly good Halle Berry rounding out the cast, there should be no complaints from anyone about the performances.
- There are some spectacular character moments between the men in the movie. (I would have liked to have seen more for the women, but I'll go into that later.) And there were satisfying arcs for a couple of them, too. So it wasn't all just one note.
- Elton John is hilarious.
- The soundtrack, including Mark Strong singing Country Roads with a full choir.
- Positively mindless violence.
The problems are... well... let's break these down a bit.
Let's start with our villain, and i use that term loosely. Poppy (Julianne Moore) is the eccentric head of a major drug cartel who lives in the jungles of Cambodia in a small compound made to look like vintage 50s America. Poppy wants to take her company public, so to speak. She's upset that she's the most successful business owner in the world but that she doesn't get any recognition for it. So her plot is to poison her own drug supply with a virus that will kill on a clock and hold those people hostage until the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood, love him) legalizes all drugs.
Now, the concept of a female head of a drug cartel? Fun. Making her saccharine sweet and homicidal with a love for Grease, neon and Elton John? Even more fun. There's a lot you can do there, especially if you make her a competent antagonist.
But Poppy isn't competent, and she's hardly an antagonist. See here's the thing, the President thinks it would be better to let the drug junkie trash just die. The audience knows he has no intention of caving to Poppy's demands. Also, while she is an endgame boss, she's hardly the epic battle. Her lieutenants--a cyborg henchman, lots of nameless mooks, and a trio of robots--do the work while she plays in her 50s world. And she is portrayed for comedic effect. There are other characters (all male) that have more sinister qualities and who are actually portrayed as dangerous. Her plot is laughable, and she's just one thing throughout the film. She has no depth. Add it all up and Poppy is impotent from the word GO.
Women In General
This movie treats its women like shit. There are six female characters with significant parts: Roxy (holdover from the first film, friend), Ginger Ale (the Statesman's version of Merlin, a tech genius), Clara (a sex object), Tilde (a girlfriend), and Fox (a politician). Not a single one of them has any depth to her role. If their motivations aren't shallow, their role is truncated before we can find out more, or they're being used as a plot point. For example, Roxy is killed within the first 10 minutes of the film. Other than acting as a cyber Cyrano for Eggsy, Roxy is a non-entity in this film. She serves as a reason our heroes keep going: to avenge her. Similarly, Tilde--Eggsy's Swedish princess girlfriend--is poisoned by the tainted drugs and Eggsy has to keep going to save her. Fox is the moral compass of the movie. The President's aide, she tries to convince him that he must save these people, and she herself is also exposed to the tainted drugs (more on that later). Her purpose is to make the President look more sinister. She exists for contrast. And Clara... we'll talk about her in a moment. Every woman in this film, with the exceptions of Poppy and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), is in the proverbial refrigerator.
Giving Ginger Ale more to do, making Fox more than just a moral speed bump, allowing Tilde to be more than just an emotional connection Eggsy isn't supposed to have.... these are all simple fixes that could have helped the movie be less of a sausage fest. (Secret: Women like mindless comic book violence and espionage, too. Please let us be badasses, not just the ones who stay behind and use the internet to support you.)
I'm going to say it here: Trigger Warning - rape, non-consentual sex, violence against women. If you need to skip this section, please proceed to the next bold text beneath the happy gif. <3
So Clara (Poppy Delevingne) is the girlfriend of an antagonist, Charlie (Edward Holcroft, holdover from first movie). The Kingsmen and Statesmen want to use her to find Charlie, because if they find him they can find Poppy. Clara is going to be at the Glastonbury music festival, so Statesman Whiskey suggests they plant a device on her. They have to get it into her bloodstream via mucous membranes. Rather than, say spiking her drink with it, or having any other way of tracking her, Whiskey insists it must be inserted vaginally. He tries to seduce her, but when he fails, Eggsy steps in and within a few minutes she's down to fuck.
Eggsy is conflicted and asks his girlfriend for permission via Facetime. So already Clara is here not because of anything other than her attachment to a man and her agency doesn't matter. Even if she's down for sex, she doesn't know that something is being inserted into her body. This is not the contact she consented to.
After struggling with his conscience, Eggsy says he won't do it. A moment later, however, he finds that another person close to him is effected by the poison. So, he bravely mounts Clara and what follows is the worst thing in the film. A camera shot straight out of CSI where we follow Eggsy's finger down Clara's body, into her panties and we watch the device implant itself inside her. He then stops what he's doing and leaves, saying he needs to be loyal to his girlfriend.
Congrats, writers, you just made your hero reprehensible. You didn't have to do this. She wasn't necessary at all. You had any number of ways to track Charlie without rape. Clara had no point in this movie other than to be fingered. You also didn't need this scene to give the Tilde/Eggsy relationship a jolt. You poison her later, thus giving Eggsy motivation. There is no earthly reason this scene is necessary to the story that can't be gained in other ways.
If you NEEDED this scene (you didn't, not even a little), you didn't have to sully your hero with it. You already had a suspicious character: Whiskey. You could've let him do this and thus make the audience more likely to believe Harry (Colin Firth) when he says Whiskey's a traitor. It adds depth and shading to that arc.
AND if you really feel that Eggsy needs to finger a blonde to save the world, fine, the Speculum Cam shot was not fucking necessary. You can show him slipping on the finger condom containing the device and stepping into Clara's tent, then cut directly to Merlin and Ginger Ale saying, "We've got her signal on the map. Good job, Eggsy." After that you can show his remorse with visual story telling.
After she's sexually assaulted by the protagonist, Clara goes to Charlie for a cure for the tainted drugs. The heroes follow her and when Eggsy implies in front of Charlie that he fucked his girlfriend, Charlie blows up the whole place. Clara is killedWhat the ever loving fuck? Jealous boyfriend kills woman. How fucking cliche and tone deaf.
About The Druggies
The plot hinges on two characters who want to let everyone who uses drugs die. The drugs include cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and meth. Two characters believe that anyone who does these drugs is a criminal and a detriment to society, a reprobate who deserves to die. People who are exposed to the tainted drugs present symptoms of a blue rash and are then sent to "medical centers" that turn out to be massive jails where they are expected to just die horribly.
This is terrible. It's horrifying. And it should be, seeing these people caged and left to die.
Now, there are probably some filmgoers who agree with that treatment. So, we have Eggsy's best mate, his girlfriend, and one of the Statesmen (Tequila, played by Channing Tatum) all fall victim to the disease. You don't want Eggsy's girlfriend and friend to die, right? You don't want Tequila to die, he's a fun gun-toting American cowboy! And Magic Mike! If you're still not seeing a problem with millions of people dead on the basis that they use drugs, we'll pull out Fox. She's our big gun. She's the moral compass. She pleads with the President on behalf of men, women and children from all walks of life. It's moving and it puts the President squarely in the "bad guy" category.
Then a few scenes later, she presents the blue rash. She explains she self-medicates (it's never said what she uses) because she works 20 hours a day, 7 days a week for him. She's caged.
Problem: by making your moral compass a victim, you eliminate her credibility. Oh, she had a vested interest, she just wanted to save her own ass, so all of that convincing stuff she said two scenes ago is bullshit and not worth it.
Also, as someone who uses medical marijuana, I resented the implication that people who use cannabis are all degenerate criminals who deserve to die. Thanks. Thanks for that, movie. You triggered my sexual assault PTSD AND alienated me because of my medication.
Like I said...Kingsman is fun and mindless. But that's the problem. It doesn't think about certain choices it makes to the detriment of the story. It does some things really well, but falls so flat in other areas that it's down right jarring. It's disappointing. The film indicates that there will be more Kingsman stories to come. If so, I hope they explore the "gentleman" angle more. In the end scene, Eggsy fights a one-armed man with one of his own hands behind his back. That kind of cheeky confidence that is all at once snarky and within the realm of decorum is what it means to be a Kingsman. So don't stray from it.