We got our very first taste today of the upcoming Bond film, Spectre, with a brief presser announcing the movie's name and production and cast info.
Daniel Craig will return as Bond, as will Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes as M and Ben Whishaw as Q. Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux star as Lucia Sciarra and Madeleine Swann, respectively, the new "Bond girls."
As I took in the details, I couldn't help but wonder if the new film is going to course-correct the one element that really let the otherwise excellent most recent Bond flick, Skyfall, down: the sexism.
A (slightly) better Bond
[Warning: This piece contains spoilers for every Bond film from 2006 onward.]
Sexism and misogyny have long been problems in the series
Sexism and misogyny have long been problems in the series, which grew out of Ian Fleming's fantasy spy novels. With the slow march of progress for women throughout the 20th century, and the fact that each new actor playing Bond brought with him a sort of soft reboot for the series, things did get a bit less egregious. There's a big difference between, say, Sean Connery's Bond in the 1960s and Pierce Brosnan's Bond in the 1990s.
Connery's bond would slap women around, and the films presented them as playthings for the main character. That's a long way from 1995's GoldenEye, where Bond's main squeeze, Natalya Simonova, was a computer programmer with sass and survival skills, and one of the villains was a woman soldier. Sure, she killed men while she had sex with them, but she was, at the very least, more than a withering flower.
The Brosnan Bond films also had Judi Dench in the role of M — Bond's boss. In GoldenEye, M even takes Bond to task for being "a sexist, misogynist dinosaur," the film's explicit acknowledgement of Bond's shitty behavior toward women and implicit promise to do a bit better. M is the smartest person in every Bond movie, a spymaster who has world affairs in the palm of her hand, and carries the weight of that responsibility with appropriate gravitas. Making M a woman was a bold — and decidedly feminist — choice for the series.
In 2006, with Casino Royale and a new Bond in Daniel Craig, the films took another step forward. Judi Dench continued in the role of M, for a start. And this Bond found his intellectual equal in the smart, sarcastic Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), another field agent sent to aid Bond in his mission to outwit the film's central villain in a game of high-stakes poker. Vesper takes none of Bond's shit, and in their very first scene together, sizes him up with no mercy. She saves his life no fewer than three times during the film, and, far from his typical womanizing ways, Bond falls in love with her.
Quantum of Solace, which was met with far less enthusiasm upon its release in 2008, was even more progressive where women are concerned. The key woman in Solace is Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), a trained fighter and secret service agent seeking revenge on the villainous General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio). Bond treats her as a protege, not as a booty call. Together, as agents and equals, they bring down the bad guys.
In one of their first encounters, Bond, thinking he's being heroic, "saves" Camille from Medrano, only to find out she'd worked years to get close enough to the general to assassinate him. He thinks he's doing her a favor, but she's understandably angry with him for blowing her big chance. Later in the film, Camille saves another woman from being raped by Medrano, and faces off against him in combat, eventually killing him and bringing her own journey for justice to an end.
It's rare for a Bond film to allow a woman to be strong in the same ways Bond is — and Quantum of Solace deserves praise for treating its woman agent with this respect.
2012's Skyfall is widely heralded to be a great Bond movie. It has a fantastic villain in Silva, played by a menacing Javier Bardem. It has nuanced character development for Bond, and a rare, extended glance into his actual backstory. The action is intense, and the stakes always feel sky-high.
Skyfall turned back the clock
But it also turned back the clock on all of the progress women have made in Bond movies, by either killing or disempowering every key woman in the film.
Eve (Naomie Harris) begins the film as a field agent. At first, I was excited to see a woman of color presented as a tough, competent lady in the field. Then she basically screws up on a mission, causing Bond to be severely injured and drop off the face of the earth for awhile. Later, she shows up to basically be a booty call for Bond.
I could deal with all of that, if it weren't for the fact that she resigns as a field agent by the end to become a glorified secretary. Eve literally becomes Moneypenny (a long-running Bond character) by the end of the film — Bond's secretary that always lusts after him. The Craig Bond films had previously done without this particularly sexist element, but here was a woman of color basically admitting she had no place in the field, and taking a desk job instead. This was enormously disappointing.
Bond's most egregious act of assholery takes place when, after rescuing a woman from the clutches of Silva — where it is strongly implied that Silva had sexually assaulted her — Bond walks in on her in the shower for some surprise sex. Instead of reading as playful or fun, the scene feels gross and intrusive. Bond would've known what this woman had been through, and walking in on her as she is naked and vulnerable is unforgivable.
Later, that same woman is fridged — killed in order to give the male hero further motivation to go after his enemy.
every woman is either killed or severely demoted
Finally, M is killed, and replaced by, yes, a white man. M dies with honor, and Bond is appropriately upset by his colleague and friend's death. It's not her death, per se, that's the problem here. It's the fact that, in a movie where every woman is either killed or severely demoted, the filmmakers also decided it was the right time to replace the series' most powerful woman with a man.
Moving towards Spectre
In Skyfall, the most progressive Bond era (at least, where women are concerned) was turned way back. It crossed the line where I, as a feminist, felt comfortable enjoying something despite its problems (which is where I typically land on Brosnan- and Craig-era Bond films), and just made me uncomfortable.
Returning director Sam Mendes and the rest of the production team have a chance here to go back to the ethos of the first two Daniel Craig Bond films. Where women have a chance to be heroic — or, at the very least, interesting and strong. It doesn't neuter Bond to have strong women in his life, and, as we saw with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, it makes for a much more interesting film. I'm not asking for much in Spectre — just a good, exciting action flick that doesn't insult me for being a woman.