Ok, I totally love James Bond movies. I love the ridiculousness, and the drama and the beautiful scenery. I have joy in -as Mark Kermode recently put it– the “it’s a car, it’s a bike, it’s a train, it’s a digger ON a train!” stuff, and the caricatured characters (Q you are my favourite and that will never change). So I loved the infinitely-better-than-the mega confusing Quantum of Solace: Skyfall.
ALERT- THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS (sorry)
For his 50th anniversary, Skyfall places Bond firmly in the present day. There is much talk of old vs new; out go volcano dwelling supervillians, in comes a computer hacking psychopath: “What were you expecting, an exploding pen?” asks Q in the National Gallery, “we don’t really go in for that any more”. This Bond film has given the franchise a contemporary flavour while keeping many well known, warmly held clichés.
But despite all the great things about Skyfall, I still find Bond’s rampant chauvinism to be particularly old hat – and therein lies my rant. Nothing seems to have really changed in the outdated way in which Mr Bond objectifies and consumes women. Glamour and slinky dresses are great, but viewing women only in this light harks back to the ‘women know your limits’ days.
Let’s take Skyfall Bond girl Severine’s story line for example. We learn that she has not only suffered in the clutches of the sex trade from a young age, but clearly lives in terror of her most recent lover/master the super evil villain Raoul Silva. Following her subsequent liberation from this predicament, Bond greets her naked, as if he is entitled to sex as a thank you present. Of course, she obliges.
Knowing what she had been through, did he even stop to consider her traumatic history and that she may want some body space and perhaps a good chat about her ordeal over a cup of tea (or several years of therapy for that matter)? For those who aspire to be like 007(don’t we all), should we ‘ok’ this lack of empathy? Bond’s mental instability might explain his relational failings but for me, glamorising these failings just cancels out the value of the clever emotional depth to Craig’s Bond. Later on when said lady dies, he declares “that’s a waste of good scotch” referring to the glass that fell from her head as she was shot in the face. A classic quip from 007 that would seem to imply he values good liquor over a young woman’s life. This was a clear moment in the film where old motifs jarred with the contemporary world in which Bond now finds himself.
Even Moneypenny, I’m sorry to say, was winking and smirking her way straight into the please-see-me-as-an-object box. I wonder if there will ever be a bond girl (bar the queen I suppose) who would respond to 007’s advances with something like: “I’m sorry but I hold certain religious and/or social beliefs about long term commitment and/or body boundaries which you’re going to have to accept as part of my personhood as well as my looks”. Or even a simple “shall we get to know each other a little bit better?” Yes I may be called old fashioned but after seeing the Invisible War, you can forgive me for being a little peeved by any public message which links macho-ness with automatic sex-entitlement. Hmmph.
On the other hand I suppose, you could argue that things shouldn’t be taken so literally. “Has the Bond franchise ever portrayed a realistic view of women, are they not all caricatures in a crazy spy world, and to be expected as so?” asked a good friend of mine the other day. But this raises another question: is it even possible to bring a more liberalised view of women into 007’s world when key elements of the franchise still seem characterised by a chauvinistic outlook born decades back?
Well, I guess there’s Judi Dench’s M who really does lay some serious equality affirming smack down, and this signals hope, but I do feel that this film masquarades as a thoroughly modern extravaganza when many of the old pitfalls remain. In the final scene after all, Moneypenny decides to leave behind her life as a field agent (she was never that good anyway), and become a sexy secretary. A smirking Bond remarks, ‘well that makes me feel a lot safer’.