There's no denying the Kingsman franchise is fun. Its lead Taron Egerton is so damn likeable on screen that it's no wonder his star continues to rise. But beyond how good he looks in a finely tailored suit, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a mess and its treatment of its female characters is abysmal.
The first film in the franchise, Kingsman: The Secret Service, was a riff on James Bond movies with a bit of cartoony satire thrown in. It didn't have a ton of female roles in it, but Sophie Cookson's turn as secret agent Roxy earned her an Empire Award nomination for Best Female Newcomer. It was almost enough to make you overlook the crass joke at the end of the film, where prisoner Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström) offered Egerton's character Eggsy, "If you save the world, we can do it in the asshole?"
Egerton has defended director Matthew Vaughn's need for vulgar shock value to make his films conversation pieces: "It’s what Matthew does, it’s his signature thing. He likes to do something that shocks. In Kick-Ass it was Chloe Grace Moretz saying the C-word. And, you know, it’s not to everyone’s tastes, but it certainly gets people talking. All it is is explicitly showing what Bond alludes to and says in a double entendre kind of way.”
But the ante from that joke is upped in The Golden Circle, when Eggsy travels to Glastonbury Festival to place a tracker on a villain's moll (played by Poppy Delevingne) 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. This is more than explicitly showing what Bond alludes to. It's being invasive to a woman's body for comic value. At least Bond foreplay is sexy and consensual, and even if there's double-crossing going on, the women Bond encounters are often on equal footing with him. A princess locked up like she's waiting for Super Mario to save her and an unsuspecting party girl at a music festival are hardly Eggsy's equals, which is what makes the scenes so repellent.
Never mind the fact that this comes after Roxy is killed in an explosion (along with all the other Kingsmen, save for Eggsy and his tech support Merlin) by criminal mastermind Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) so she can enact her evil plans. You might think that having a female villain this go-around would make the film somehow less misogynistic, but Poppy is still battling a bunch of spies who are all men and the one adept female spy from the previous film gets killed off twenty minutes into The Golden Circle.
Even when she's alive, however, Roxy is focused on helping Eggsy survive a dinner date with his girlfriend's parents instead of getting in on the action. It furthers the film's narrative of subservient women — the U.S. President's Chief of Staff cowers in his presence, Princess Tilde is dating an international spy but is somehow squeamish about him engaging in sexpionage, like this situation has never come up before? And when it does come up, she sobs about it and pressures him into proposing to her.
Which isn't even the worst offense committed against a woman in The Golden Circle. Halle Berry, in her role as Ginger Ale, the Statesmen's (the U.S. version of the Kingsmen) tech support, complains about never being able to get in on the action like the men do, because apparently it’s the 1950s? In a year where Charlize Theron is kicking ass on screen in Atomic Blonde and we can look forward to a Lara Croft reboot and spy thriller Red Sparrow led by Alicia Vikander and Jennifer Lawrence respectively, it's asinine to have Berry sulking around in a bad wig (somehow worse than the Jheri curls tossed on her in films like The Call and this year's Kidnap) and missing out on the action. Berry played Storm in X-Men. Berry kicks ass in a cheap, B-grade thriller every few years. She was a goddamn Bond girl in Die Another Day and all-out brawled with Rosamund Pike. You get Halle fucking Berry for a spy movie and you put her in glasses and plant her in front of a computer screen to help the boys save the world with her bluetooth headset? That's bullshit.
What's even worse, on top of the treatment of the women in this film, it has the nerve to only give Egerton one shirtless scene for five seconds. If we're really going to "explicitly show what Bond alludes to" in the Kingsman franchise, when are we going to get the explicit version of Daniel Craig's muscled torso emerging from the ocean in Casino Royale? Kingsman would do wonders focusing on telling a coherent story and making Egerton a sex symbol instead of cooking up new female body parts to violate.