The Kingsman princess joke

July 26, 2015

I finally saw Kingsman: The Secret Service last night. And I’m glad I did, because it was a lot of fun! I was especially impressed with the gratuitous violence, which was so over-the-top insane as to sprint past enjoyable, take a pit stop in uncomfortable, and end up so deep in ridiculous as to make it clear this was all an affectionate spoof of the typical James Bond-style spy movie. I also really appreciated Eggsy’s arc, and the excellent job his actor did—you don’t go into this movie giving a shit about the punk kid, but he really develops into a great character by the end.

I’d do a full story review, but my Mad Max: Fury Road post confirmed something I suspected: No one cares about a review way after the fact, and since I never get to movies until long past opening weekend, that includes any I’m liable to see. So let’s just talk about one part of the movie.

Let’s talk about the princess anal sex joke.

Let’s be clear: The tone of this movie was as an affectionate spoof, a send up of James Bond-style movie. And when you think of James Bond, you think of a seemingly incongruous amount of explosions for a freakin’ spy (what happened to being sneaky, James?), and the gratuitous porking a beautiful woman. And I use such a derogatory word deliberately, because, let’s face it, there’s nothing admirable about the sex in a James Bond movie. That the phrase “Bond girls” is part of our cultural lexicon is a regrettable thing, and one not the least absolved because it first came about umpteenth years ago—though it certainly explains it.

So the director and script writer(s) felt they had to poke fun at that. Cool. I’m on board.

And in a way, it worked. The princess (spoiler alert) promising anal sex if Eggsy saved the world was so unexpected as to provoke a disbelieving laugh. But the more I thought about it, the more troubling it became, until I had to dash off to the internet to put into words exactly why I was bothered by it so much.

I quickly found the answer. In seeking to lampoon James Bond’s sexual antics, they accidentally furthered a corrosive conceit—that of sex-as-a-reward. Sex should never be something that’s owed. It should be something that the two parties (or more—I don’t know, I don’t know what you get up to, and how many you get up to it with) mutually desire. Preferably enthusiastically. It’s more fun for everyone that way, when you don’t have to worry about having accidentally (or deliberately) coerced anyone into it.

Insert Bill Cosby joke here, that scumbag.

And to be fair, the princess seems enthusiastic about it by the final scene, and Eggsy is a dapper sonofabitch. And if she’s game for anal sex, more power to her; whatever floats your boat ma’am, says I.

The problem is in the presentation. It furthered the sex-as-a-reward misconception that so many actual, non-fictional guys have, when what it should have been doing is what the rest of the movie did—go so far over the top with James Bond-style antics as to make it clear that they’re taking the piss out of the entire genre.

With that in mind, here are a few ways I might have fixed the princess joke:

  • With slightly different delivery, the exact same joke could have worked. If the princess was less frantic when she was talking to Eggsy, for example, and far more, ahem, interested. If she had seen Eggsy and, once she learned that he wasn’t a bad guy, gave him the once over, and liked what she saw. She licks her lips, says something alluring, mentions how—and once again, this should be done after she knows he’s going to let her out no matter what, so it’s not like she’s saying it so he’ll let her out—how she’s been locked up for a long time (nudge nudge, hint hint), and that he’s exactly her type. Actually, I’m not sure how well that would work. It still feels off. But it’s closer.
  • Probably my favorite would be for him to ask for the kiss, and for the princess to agree (preferably while showing some signs of actual interest—he is flirting, so no reason she couldn’t enjoy flirting back). Then that part of the bit ends. He goes off to save the world, comes back, and she kisses him as promised. He then alludes to something more … and she shoots him down. She doesn’t even need to shut him down completely! She could mention that she’s open to a date, maybe mentioning how she likes a man in a nice suit (because once again, the dude is dapper as fuck by then). It’s just that, simply having the obligatory Bond girl moment and then not having it end in sex would have been subversion (and spoof) enough, without the unfortunate implications.
  • Keeping with the flavor of the rest of the movie, they could have gone so over the top as to shatter believability. While the original bar fight scene was brutal enough to be uncomfortable, by the time we were at the church or heads were exploding like fireworks, it was all just too ridiculous to take seriously. If the princess had said all the same things, then he comes back—and it’s revealed that there are three beautiful blonde women in her cell. Or better yet, Merlin has to remotely open all of the cells at once, and while Eggsy is kissing the princess, more girls come into his room and inexplicably jump his bones. Make it too much to believe, and the joke might have worked as the spoof it was intended to be.
  • Another one, which I stole from the top comment on this post: He comes back for his reward, but is stopped when he can’t get into the cell. Of course, that opens up some uncomfortable speculation (is the sex-as-a-reward going to continue as planned, once he figures out how to spring everyone from those cells? It’s not like he’s going to leave them all there), but the anti-climax would have been hilarious. Though perhaps my long infatuation with 8-Bit Theater has just broken me, and I’ve become too fond of the anti-climax. But they’re just so fun!

There we go: Four ways to fix the princess joke. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to quarterback from the cheap seats (though the Seahawks still should have run the ball). So let me finish with another note.

The treatment of Roxy’s character reveals that Kingsman: The Secret Service was never intended to be misogynistic. When she was first introduced, I was already rolling my eyes—of course the beautiful girl is going to side with the punk protagonist against all the other prickish frat boys. It had romantic subplot written all over it. How cliché!

Then, that never happened. She was treated as a friend, a fellow agent, and a comrade. Sure, it felt like the film (through Eggsy) was talking down to her sometimes, what with her fear of heights—but then she conquered that shit herself when she went into the upper godsdamned atmosphere and shot down a satellite to help save the day. She had her own arc—and granted, it wasn’t as good as Eggsy’s, though she also wasn’t the main character. But it was still good, it was there, and she was treated (as a character) with nothing but respect. She was treated, in effect, as any man in the movie was.

It’s kind of weird how that’s the goal, but there it is.

So any misogyny from the princess joke wasn’t intentional. It was unintentional. Which makes it all the more important to talk about, because, shit, I don’t always get this stuff. I’m still a dude, and I occasionally need to have this shit drilled into my skull by someone explaining it to me like I’m a child. Because my parents (bless their hearts) didn’t talk about this kind of thing much, and my culture sure as hell wasn’t a big help.

Most men are, in effect, at a child’s level of understanding about how corrosive and ubiquitous misogyny is in our society, to the point where I’m saying all this, and I’m sure I still don’t understand the extent! Every time I feel like I get closer to understanding, all I realize is how little I know, and how lucky I am to be able to breeze ignorantly through life, should I so choose.

It’s known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns, people. I may keep flipping the latter into the former, but all that means is I’m beginning to understand how little I understand.

I’ve strayed from the point. The princess joke in Kingsmen is problematic, and unintentionally so. It’s a mistake made by someone who was trying to do better than the films he was lampooning, and fucked it up. I feel for him. I’ve fucked up plenty of times, and I’m sure I’ll do so again—sharing your work in public has that downside.

But Kingsman was still, overall, a lot of damn fun. Three thumbs up, out of some unknown amount. Highly recommended.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.