I was waiting for someone else to cover this, since I've been busy with preparing for finals. Still am. But this got very little play in my usual channels, so I'm going to write about it, in my usual trainwrecky fashion. This contains minor spoilers to all three of the most recent Bond movies, and a major one to the first movie; I will try my best to minimize it.
What the hell was Director Sam Mendes thinking when he okayed what is essentially a rape scene in the new James Bond flick, Skyfall? Now, I understand that Bond is not historically a sterling example of gender equality. Goldfinger established that for the ages; the scene I link below might be considered a playful bedroom scene, were it not for the fact that the two are enemies and the woman is a lesbian.
However, it seemed for some time that Bond was on a slow correction course back to reality. In 1995 Dame Judi Dench took over as M, the head of MI6, the British government agency responsible for Bond's employ. Her character very openly scorned Brosnan's Bond at the time, calling him a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War." While the two eventually warmed up to each other, that line set the tone for their relationship in contrast to the Old Boys approach that was taken by her predecessors.
When the Bond series was rebooted with its newest lead actor, Daniel Craig, there were distinct differences in the tone set right from the start. Dame Judi Dench remained at the head of MI6, this time playing the role of the dinosaur - a canny and crafty one, who knew her trade and her people very well. Bond was young and uncertain. When everything is on the line in his first real mission as a top (or double-0) agent, he needs a drink. He's visibly distressed.
The bartender asks him, "Shaken or stirred?" And our young James replies, "Do I look like I give a damn?"
Then there's the matter of the cringe-inducingly requisite Bond Girl. Another face in the endless list of sexual conquests for Mr. Bond to convert to his whims with a good rogering. Disposable women for England and patriarchy. We already saw what happened to the one up there, but then what about the other leading lady of Casino Royale, Vesper Lynd? Well, she clearly gets the better of him in their first exchange.
Vesper was pretty, without being a pretty little thing. She had an iron will that matched, or perhaps exceeded (for those familiar with the ending) James'; an analytical mind as well-adapted to wordplay as world-saving; and a guarded warmth that one could not help but like. She never let his charm get the better of her; it was a relationship truly of equals.
Yes, I do mean that kind of relationship. It's James Bond. No matter how far the series has progressed, of course he'll always sleep with the leading lad- Oh, right, there was an exception. The second Daniel Craig movie. Quantum of Solace. There are a lot of words that can be said about Quantum of Solace; it did suffer from being written by an actor and a director rather than the actual writers, in the face of the Writers' Strike. But it is quite worth watching, as long as you view it as a coda to Casino Royale and not as a standalone Bond movie.
There are a lot of good things in it. I love the exchange, how does it go?
James Bond: You know I was just wondering what South America would look like if nobody gave a damn about coke or communism. It always impressed me the way you boys would carve this place up.And in a confused way, it does try to address some of the surprisingly low-key ways that villainy can be enacted upon the poor and disadvantaged.
Felix Leiter: I'll take that as a compliment, coming from a Brit.
It also marks a rarity - perhaps a first, I haven't seen a lot of the older Bond movies - in that James Bond does not sleep with the female lead. Camille Rivero is a rape survivor, tormented by the villain and his henchmen, and she plays a key part in bringing down the evil plans of Dominic Greene. Bond never has sex with her, there's no relationship overtone whatsoever. She is, again, a strong woman who can match Bond and is not a conquest.
That's not to say that Bond had become a startling beacon of female empowerment in action movies. No, Women in Refrigerators is the replacement problem here, where every woman that Bond does have a sexual relationship with dies, as a means of sacrificial lamb character development. That's kind of a theme in the movie, in fact, as he struggles to get over his emotional losses. But Women in Refrigerators is a major step up, since the women who die are characters who we feel the world is lesser for no longer having. They are not sexy cardboard cutouts, which forms basically the worst expression of that media phenomenon.
And that leaves us with Skyfall.
In many ways, Skyfall was a brilliant merger of what has made the Daniel Craig Bond so successful, and what long-time aficionados had come to expect out of the Bond series. We're introduced to a new Q, portrayed by Ben Whishaw, who seamlessly resumes the process of being Bond's major geek - but he scathingly brushes away the possibility of ridiculous gadgets when he equips James for the new mission.
James Bond: It's not exactly Christmas, is it?There are wink-and-nod references to ejector seats in fancy British cars shortly before Dame Judi Dench delivers some of the most solid and emotional acting of her career. The cold nature with which the spy business has to be conducted is weaved in with the undercurrent of care which any responsible superior has to feel for their subordinates when they control the life-or-death switches. And there is absolutely no way in which I can discuss Naomi Harris' character - who is the number two lady - without ruining one of my favorite moments in the movie. Rest assured that they never sleep together, and she was great, the role was great.
Q: What were you expecting – an exploding pen? We don't do that sort of thing any more.
But there were things which terribly mar this film. I could go on about just how badly Skyfall handled the entire notion of computer security, being barely one step above NCIS. But I wouldn't have written this long just to subject you all to a nerd's rant about information technology - no, the real kicker was how badly Skyfall handled the third lady.
Berenice Marlohe plays Sévérine, a distressingly beautiful femme fatale, a major player in the day's villainy. Except in a trademark show of James' perception, he quickly surmises that she is not a villain at all; the distressingly beautiful dame is a damsel-in-distress. A member of the sex trade and human trafficking, who hitched on a ride with a powerful man she thought could be her ticket out. The problem was that ... he wasn't her ticket out. Sévérine is still in sexual servitude, with just as much danger as she ever had before - just with a gilded cage.
And then she and James sleep with each other. And given how incredibly perceptive and well-read Mr. Bond is, he should be aware that this is tantamount to rape.
Arguments have been erected in his defense, in those few corners of the internet where anyone seemed to actually notice. The most common one being that Sévérine left a lot of clues saying that she wanted it, and she was far from reluctant or passive in their embraces.
The problem with those defenses is that Sévérine was a sex slave for much of her life. She's in extreme danger. She does not have a talent for action, masterful plots, or anything else; her only resource is sex. Maybe she was genuinely interested in Mr. Bond, or maybe this was the only bargaining chip that she thought she had to get his help. We, as the audience, know that James Bond would have helped her anyway. He's essentially supposed to be a hero, after all.
But Sévérine did not know that. And in return, we the audience will never know if her 'consent' was really freely given, or because she felt she did not have a choice. It doesn't help matters that she dies shortly after, segueing straight back into Women in Refrigerators.
What the hell, James Bond? What the hell, Eon Productions? Three steps forward, and then you charge two right back? And for what purpose, to establish that Bond is still a sexy and seductive son of a gun, to quiet the naysayers who felt that he'd been too soft?
Lest we forget, Bond sleeps with two women in Casino Royale, both die. One woman in Quantum of Solace, she dies. Two women in Skyfall, one lives, but another one gets to die anyway, keeping the XX body count high. I'm sorry, I don't think Bond's virility was ever really in doubt.
Call it bowdlerization, but I can't actually see myself ever rewatching Skyfall - as excellent as everything else not computer-related was - on DVD unless they remove or alter that scene. It ruins the evolution of Bond in favor of sating people who did not need to be sated. This James Bond should know better, and so should the creative team behind him. Good writing does not work this way.