What is all this guff about the new Bond film marking a milestone transformation of Bond? If you'd only read the reviews the gushing reviews of Skyfall, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the character of Bond is no longer a sex-crazed misogynist without a conscience, and the franchise has so evolved with the changing values of the Western world that the women everyone's favourite spy gets to shag are now written as real human beings.
For the love of Pussy Galore!
It's true: writing M as a competent, steadfast woman and casting the brilliant Judi Dench in the role was a bold, progressive move. But that was in 1995, guys! In that film (Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond in Goldeneye), steely-haired M calls him 'a sexist, misogynist dinosaur'. For all the normal humans bored to death of the Bond franchise's decades of glamourising misogyny, their initial reaction was to dance around singing: 'Thiiiiiings, can only get beeeetttter! Can only get beeeetttter!'
Actually, it seemed more like a concession to the enlightened masses than a genuine move towards updating the stale old attitudes of the world's most famous spy. The films continued to supply audiences with an erotic conveyer belt of women with lithe bodies and ridiculous names like Xenia Onatopp and Christmas Jones, all of whom Bond gets to have his charming English way with. The latter lady, a nuclear physicist played by a pouting Denise Richards, was clearly given that name (rather than, say, Anotha Boobylady) so that Bond could deliver this marvellous line at the end of The World is Not Enough: 'I thought Christmas only comes once a year.' Snigger, smirk, oooh-eer missus, ad nauseam.
Whilst doing their promotional duties, the actors (Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Javier Bardem) confirmed Graham Norton's question 'Is it Bond...women now?' with firm nods in unison: 'Yes, Bond women.' But the women on screen are the same passive sex objects they always were.
Essential to James Bond is the presence of two 'main' Bond girls (i.e. female characters with lines), in addition to the obligatory female who has very little to say and do except look super-hot and have sex with Bond. Skyfall? Tick, tick, tick.
In Sam Mendes' film, there is one lovely lady that Bond (spoiler alert) doesn't get to canoodle - BUT DON'T WORRY. He DOES get to have a sexy shaving scene with her, and he does have a delightful night with an almost faceless, nameless female who has literally nothing to say. Phew!
Eve (played by Naomie Harris) is the most....up-to-date version of a Bond girl. She says sassy things and she can shoot. Bond jokes that she's a bad driver because she races through the streets of Istanbul after a baddie and knocks someone's wing mirror off. Later she shaves him, in a sexy way, and says sexy things, in a completely superfluous scene (well, superfluous unless it gave you a boner, I guess). Sigh. She seems pretty incidental to the whole proceedings.
But what of M? Ah yes, M. The mother/son relationship that pans out through Bond's desire and obligation to protect M from the baddie isn't a new, or particularly interesting idea. Oh, is M a bit like a mum to the orphan Bond? A figure both of authority and love? The one woman he desires but can never have? NO WAY! That Oedipal relationship was made blindingly obvious from the moment Judi Dench appeared on the scene in (I'll say it again, a little louder): 1995.
And then there's Sévérine, the impossibly beautiful Second Bond Girl. In a bar scene, whilst wearing a revealing outfit and making sexy eyes at him, she reveals to Bond that she has been sex trafficked and subjected to years of abuse. He then surprises her a few scenes later in the shower. Right. So- she's in the shower, naked, having a wash (as you do) and he just... 'surprises' her. By walking in to the shower naked. And having sex with her. And she doesn't flip out. And she's a victim of sex trafficking. And, apparently, that's OK.
Skyfall has been the most successful Bond film of all time the box. Some people, including Guardian journalist Jane Martinson, have speculated that a contributing factor may be its favourable portrayal of women. But if this was the case, Casino Royale would surely have been the more successful film.
Casino Royale was far superior to Skyfall. It redefined Bond in a radical, interesting way. It showed him as a damaged human being, who must numb himself to the reality of routinely committing state-funded murder. He has his heart irreparably broken by a Bond 'girl', who, although she is a pawn of a more powerful, male villain, has a flipping personality and Bond really feels things for her. EXTRA, EXTRA: BOND HAS HEART AS WELL AS PENIS!
Also, Skyfall has made me realise what has long been so obvious that I can't believe I've only just figured it out: the Bond girls are nothing more than marketing tools for the franchise. The ones who aren't there merely for the amusement of Bond's penis may indeed have some significant role in furthering the plot, but they also have to look super-hot, they still have to go to bed with him and they most certainly have to play a starring role on the film poster. Please peruse this fine selection of Bond posters throughout the years to see what I mean.
Dara O'Brian recently joked that when he was growing up in Ireland, Bond films were the closest thing to porn he could get. Some of these posters look like actual porn posters (do porn movies have posters...?). Come on. 'You only live twice... and twice is the only way to live!' Witness Bond smirking in a bath full of lovely ladies. Mmmmmmmindeeeeed!!! Gross.
Skyfall's poster, I admit, is a turning point in Bond poster history. Well done, Skyfall poster designers: you didn't put Bond smirking like a creep-o on your posters, next to a semi-naked lady presenting her buttocks to the world. Well done! And well done marketing people: you fooled everyone (even Guardian journalists) into thinking that the Bond franchise had grown-up, moved on and transformed the Bond girls into Bond women, freed of the invisible, but ever-present shackles of female sexualisation. And well done every newspaper, magazine and website that printed a front-page, headline story of Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe so that men could drool over them, women could coo over their outfits/be jealous their bodies, and you could sell lots and lots of copies while helping to line the big, fat pockets of the producers of the latest Bond film.
Do we expect you to talk, 007? No, Mr Bond- we expect you to get better writers who have the guts to write decent female characters with intelligence and an inner life who are treated with respect by the good guys and have an active role to play. But then perhaps that would undermine the Bond films in a way that would be utterly unacceptable to the audience: the franchise would bear more of a resemblance to real life, and not a Hugh Hefner fantasy.