Last week I enjoyed a night out at the IMAX with friends to see the latest Bond flick, Spectre. I can’t say I had overly high expectations – I was more interested in the IMAX aspect – as I never watched Bond films as a child and thus do not hold the nostalgic view of the franchise many do. It is perhaps this that fuels my opinion of the franchise as increasingly outdated.
This is ironic given that a prominent theme in Spectre is how the 007 programme fits into modern society. Whilst the film may be content to show us via massive explosions that Bond still matters, I didn’t find myself convinced.
Ultimately, Bond is a relic of the Cold War. The source material – beloved as it may be – is a reflection of its time, when paranoia and tensions were at an all time high. That era is no more, and whilst it can be fun to toy with nostalgia – Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E earlier this year for instance – I would argue the past is best left in the past.
That said, 2012’s Skyfall felt like a ray of hope for the franchise, providing an example of how classic Bond favourites such as Q and Moneypenny could be brought into the 21st century. Yet fast-forward to Spectre and it feels like a case of one step forward, three back.
The main issue however is the franchises continued portrayal of women as disposable sex objects. The ‘Bond girl’ is an iconic element of the franchise which appears to resist any real form of progress. Whilst previous Daniel Craig incarnations, notable Skyfall and 2006’s Casino Royale, have at least attempted to deviate from the status quo, I can’t shake the feeling that the writers feel that since they have empowered Moneypenny as capable and not romantically interested in Bond they are free to carry on the tired trope elsewhere.
Spectre is particularly guilty in this respect. The amount of discussion over the casting of 50 year old Monica Bellucci as the ‘oldest ever’ Bond girl highlights the issue straight away. Bellucci is only three years older than Craig, whilst the main female role is held by Lea Seydoux who, at 30, is 17 years Craig’s junior. It was only Bellucci’s casting that was considered surprising, and this is purely based on age. Bond girls have very rarely been age counterparts to Bond, usually averaging out at at least a decade younger.
The part Bellucci plays in Spectre is even more concerning. Clocking in at barely more than a cameo, we essentially see Bond save her, undress her, get the information he requires to drive the plot along before leaving her in danger with a throwaway line about how an Embassy official will save her. They don’t even bother to tie up the loose thread because, post-rendezvous, she’s irrelevant.
This all occurs before we are introduced to Seydoux’s Madeline Swann. Beginning with such promise, we first meet Swann as an intelligent, self assured doctor who spurns 007’s advances before he has the chance to make any. Swann does not need Bond to look after her – she knows her way around a gun – and it seems we have progress. Five minutes later (a few days at most in relation to the timeline) and the seemingly rational Swann declares her love for him. Already ridiculous, this is made worse by the utter lack of any build up or chemistry between the pair. It’s all downhill from there and before long Swann has been reduced to little more than a typical damsel in distress.
Granted, the representation and in particular the sexualisation of women in film is a problem that is not confined to the 007 franchise, but it seems sometimes as though Bond skims over criticism by using its claims to nostalgia and the source material. If the franchise could have the excellent Judi Dench as top dog M for so many years, they could surely work harder to counteract this treatment of women in other areas of the films. There is nothing wrong with Bond being a womaniser, but don’t have these female characters being defined only by his character trait.
On that note, here is an amusing video of a feminist Bond girl, enjoy!: