Warning: Spoilers! If you haven't yet seen Kingsman, this article will contain some spoilers on the final scenes. Read at your own risk!
Kingsman hit theaters nearly a week ago, and for the most part, has been well-received. Critics and viewers love the over-the-top action and violence, the classic pygmalion tale, and the homages to classic Bond films. One such nod, however, is causing some controversy, with many feminists complaining that Vaughn's film ends on a distinctly misogynistic note.
The scene in question is part of the final showdown, when Eggsy has tricked his way into the evil lair/bunker belonging to Valentine, in order to save the world. Valentine has most of the rich and powerful people of the world with him, either sipping champagne or locked in cells to await the end of the world. One such prisoner is the Princess of Sweden, an unsurprisingly gorgeous blonde whose cell Eggsy happens to find first.
Upon discovering her, our gentleman spy cheekily asks if he can have a kiss for letting her out, and she replies that he can have "a lot more than that". He promises to come back and let her out just as soon as he's done saving the world, at which point she asks him if they can "do it in the asshole". Later, having saved the world, Eggsy grabs some champagne, swaggers on over, and is very much welcomed into her surprisingly luxurious cell, where we end with Merlin (his gadget-man) getting a gratuitous ass shot and closing up the computer to avoid seeing the rest of Eggsy's "rescue".
Critics of this scene claim that it misses the mark as a joke, that it is pure juvenile sexism, and that clearly director Vaughn doesn't understand what being a "gentleman" is all about.
Now Vaughn has spoken to EW about the controversial line, defending it as a joke, and sounding pretty surprised about the strong reaction to that scene over, say, exploding heads and church members beating each other to death.
What happened there was I studied all the old movies, especially the Bond ones. At the end of Moonraker, he’s floating around in space on Dr. Goodhead, and they say, “Bond is attempting reentry.” In The Spy Who Loved Me, he says he’s “keeping the British end up.” The innuendo is pretty strong and always comes from the men. I just thought it would be great to turn it on its head by having the woman say it. I actually think it’s empowering. Some bloody feminists are accusing me of being a misogynist. I’m like, “It couldn’t be further from the truth.” It’s a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind, which will cause a big argument again I’m sure. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek and crazy.
I was surprised when people are saying to me, “I loved the movie. I think it’s great, but I was offended by that.” I said, “Really? That’s more offensive than exploding heads, massacres in church, swearing, people being cut in half?” I was like, come on. It’s just a joke. It’s not even graphic.
He's got a point. The entire movie is filled with references to the old Bond movies, some loving, others - like this one - much more of a take-off on the old cliches.
In fact, one of the things that impressed me most about this movie, especially given it's Valentine's Day release, was the lack of love story. It was fantastic to see a film where the writers didn't feel the need to include some kind of romance to make it work. It would have been easy to do, especially with the inclusion of Roxy. As it stands, the two go through training together, become very close, but remain friends and nothing more. That, for me, was an incredibly empowering relationship to watch. Roxy, despite being the pretty girl in with the lads, is never hit on, never alluded to as eye-candy, and for once, we see an actual friendship between two young, single, attractive characters.
In fact, the only sex/romance element in the entire film is in that final joke. We see Eggsy's mother in her grief over losing his father, and in her terrible subsequent relationship, and we see a hint of a romance between Gazelle and Valentine (although that could also have simply been platonic care and companionship). All in all, this is not a movie about boy-gets-girl, and it's refreshing in that.
The final joke, therefore, is very obviously tongue-in-cheek. Vaughn is recognizing the lack of love-interest in the film, and the classic trope of hero-gets-pretty-girl. Like he says, he's poking fun at the cheesy "sex scenes" in old Bond movies, right down to the other agent/tech guy turning off whichever gadget lets him see what's going on.
Many feminists have taken this as the tried-and-true "sex as a reward" set up, which is obviously problematic. Sex should not be seen as something to be earned by doing the right thing, and that kind of thinking has led to legions of "nice guys" who feel entitled to an intimate relationship courtesy of being kind. If taken seriously, this could definitely pose an issue, but it's not meant to be taken seriously. It's actually working to show the audience how ridiculous the idea of sex-as-a-gold-star is, intentionally exaggerated and even a little jarring. It shouldn't be so difficult to distinguish between supporting an idea and making fun of it to show a lack of support.
An element that Vaughn doesn't bring up, but that I found wonderfully sex-positive, was the idea that the woman actively suggested anal. Frankly, I'm quite sick of the tired old stereotype that all women want candles, romance, three hours of foreplay and then the missionary position. Yawn. It's incredibly frustrating, and the many (many) movies that assume this to be true paint women as suffering through other positions, faking headaches or sighing and forcing themselves through it to make sure that he takes out the garbage. It's appalling.
In this scene, however, Eggsy is clearly joking, and doesn't actually expect anything from Tilde. (After all, he let everyone else go, didn't he? Or are we meant to assume that he went through all the other cells, forcing all the attractive prisoners to bang him as a condition of their release? Puh-lease.) He is clearly shocked when she not only says yes, but ups the game with absolutely no subtlety. The woman wants the sex. The woman wants anal sex. It's about time that we see a female character who is classy and in a position of power without being completely sexless. It's past time that we see female characters who want and enjoy more than softcore romance.
At the end of the day, it's a joke. It's poking fun at misogyny, not taking part in it. And it's within a film that otherwise stays completely away from any negative portrayal of women. Of course, that's just my opinion, and I won't pretend that it has nothing to do with what I might say if I was locked in a jail cell and Taron Eggerton appeared in a suit to let me out.
What do you think? Was [Kingsman: The Secret Service](movie:713143)'s joke sexist and inappropriate, or did it have you rolling in the aisles? What would you have done if you were Princess Tilde?