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There's Still Not Enough Space for Women in Spy Films

'Kingsman: The Golden Circle' takes some small steps away from genre chauvinism, but it's not even close to enough.

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Oct 2 2017, 8:40pm

20th Century Fox

The world of the Kingsman movies runs hot and cold when it comes to women. Maybe that's to be expected—women have always drawn the short straw when it comes to the spy movie, and as a genre parody, Kingsman isn't exempt from falling into that same rut. Women are targets to be seduced and discarded, and if they're the ones doing the seducing, they're doomed to meet their ends before the story's over. That dynamic's shifted a little in recent years, but even in the Kingsman series—which does its best to up-end most of what we expect from the typical spy movie—their place is still in flux. The series' second installment, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, only makes that clearer.

The Secret Service ended with an anal sex joke that's raised as much ire as it has been elicited defenses of how Kingsman pokes fun at the spy genre. The Golden Circle seems to have taken that conversation into account, as Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström)—who once offered Eggsy (Taron Egerton) anal sex as a reward for saving the world—is now his live-in girlfriend. But as sweet as their relationship is, her characterization is still paper-thin. She sends Eggsy off with a callback joke ("If you save the world, you know what that means"), and when he has to bed a target later in the film, the only thing that appeases her is a marriage proposal.

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That scene alone is a series of ups and downs: Eggsy is supposed to seduce Clara (Poppy Delevigne), who turns out to be more than enthusiastic about the prospect. When Eggsy gets cold feet after calling Tilde, she makes a bid at getting him to stay by stripping into her lingerie. It's encouraging that the camera doesn't leer too much on her frame, but the goodwill is quickly squandered by how the script frames her sexual wants as a joke (she tells Eggsy she doesn't mind watersports, as it were), followed by the film's most ridiculous sequence. The tracker that Eggsy has to plant on Clara has to go through the mucus membrane, so the camera follows Eggsy's hand down her front, under her underwear, and then into her body. Nothing makes it clearer that she's just a prop.

Besides Tilde and Clara, the other women in the movie don't fare much better. Roxy (Sophie Cookson) bites the bullet within the first few scenes of the movie, despite having been set up as a partner and an equal to Eggsy; Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), one of the American Statesman agents, goes through a similar ordeal as she's sidelined to tech wiz duties and only bumped up to field agent status at the end of the movie.

Then there's Poppy (Julianne Moore), the film's main villain. At one point, a news segment describes her as possessing superficial charm, and in the end, that's all she gets from the script. She's fun, to be sure—her obsession with the 1950s is a nice touch, as is her love of puns and Hannibal Lecter-esque tendencies—but instead of posing a threat as the film's final boss battle, she overdoses on her own product and faints away. Instead of being set free, the palpable sense of mania that Moore brings to the role simply dissipates.

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But even though there aren't really any women in the Kingsman movies, the films themselves are strangely friendly to the female gaze—The Golden Circle in particular. You don't cast Channing Tatum in your movie without knowing what audience he appeals to—that is, everyone, but specifically a female audience. As such, his addition to the franchise doesn't seem like a coincidence, and Pedro Pascal's casting follows in a similar vein; he's got charm to spare and was singled out in his role on Game of Thrones for his universal sex appeal.

There's Colin Firth, widely known as a dreamboat for his performance as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice and Bridget Jones' Diary; and every agent, Kingsman, and Statesman is kitted out to look as good as possible. The aesthetic isn't so much James Bond–esque cool as it is markedly sexy; these guys are eye candy, and at the screening of The Golden Circle I attended, I was startled by how much giggling I heard each time one of the Kingsman or Statesman agents started doing a little showboating, as well as how the film—apart from that one scene—doesn't really offer any similar pandering to the male gaze. Granted, though, this particular aspect of The Golden Circle stands at odds with how bro-y the franchise otherwise is. Hopefully it's an imbalance that will right itself in the event that Kingsman does end up being a trilogy, but despite the fact that the franchise is friendly to and for the female gaze, and does seem to be trying to right some wrongs, there's no place for women in it.

Follow Karen Han on Twitter.

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