Might it be time to lose the ‘Bond girl’?

Feature Simon Brew 8 Nov 2012 - 07:32

Skyfall is a great Bond adventure. But, Simon argues, it does highlight one old 007 convention that might best be retired…

It’ll be a surprise to pretty much nobody that the latest James Bond adventure, Skyfall, has been packing out British cinemas over the past two weeks. The film, which makes it to America this weekend, is genuinely terrific, and just the kind of cinematic adventure that’s best served up cold.

With that in mind, it’s probably best you skip this article if you’ve not seen Skyfall. It doesn’t give away major spoilers or anything, rather that it talks about parts of the film that it’s still best to discover yourself.

If you’re still here, let’s get started.

There’s an awful, awful lot that Skyfall does right. Take the last half hour. Whereas many previous Bonds have got gradually less interesting as they’ve clambered towards a generally monotone climax, this one actually builds to something far, far more intriguing. It’s rare, but Skyfall is a Bond film that saves one of its very best sequences for right near the end. Even Casino Royale couldn’t manage that.

Furthermore, the reinvention of Bond is pretty much complete. Craig is a harder-edged Bond, not without charm, but a soldier, focused on getting the job done. The films have now thoroughly adapted around that tweak to the 007 character and the way he’s played.

And yet the notion of the Bond leading ladies hasn’t.

For my money, the only thing that really holds Skyfall back just a little is the fact that it has to go through decreasingly interesting motions with a ‘Bond girl’. Why? Why is that the part of the Bond franchise that’s seen as sacrosanct? Not the notion of Bond getting together with an assortment of women per se, rather the tired game of cat and mouse, and double entendres, we all have to sit through as he does so. Does this really help the story any more, or is it just included because the world expects it to be there? 

My perception of Craig’s take on Bond isn’t the suave international playboy of the Roger Moore era. He still enjoys his carnal pleasures, and there’s no issue with that. Rather, he strikes me as someone who would, and there’s no way to put this particularly delicately, get down to business a whole lot quicker. That would feel a lot more real at least.

Furthermore, here’s the other beef: the romantic segments of Skyfall (let’s generously call them that) don’t actually advance the story particularly efficiently either. Naomie Harris’ character is far more interesting and effective in the film when she’s not embroiled in a seduction scene that doesn’t feel realistic for her character, or that of Bond. And the two of them trading lines over the radio comms had me cringing. 

Casino Royale at least made all of this matter. At the heart of that story was Bond’s love for a woman - that felt a lot more real, and important. It drove what Bond went on to do. Whether you like the story development or not, it felt like it was integral to the narrative, rather than a box ticking exercise.

I’ve not even got to Berenice Marlohe, who’s the most short-changed actress in a Bond movie since Teri Hatcher in Tomorrow Never Dies. In that film, Hatcher’s job was to live in the shadow of the evil boss, sleep with Bond, and then meet a certain fate. Marlohe isn’t entirely on the same track, but she’s not far apart. Was her role really the best way to join one particular part of the story to the other? I’m not convinced it was.

Modern Bond has re-established what we expect from M (Judi Dench has delivered the best female character ever in the Bond franchise I’d argue), what kind of gadgets are now permissible, and what kind of threats Bond is now lined up against. The excesses are gone, and there’s real focus now. And yet, for all the progress that’s been made with the franchise, this one archaic throwback to Bond of old remains steadfast.

Say what you like about Die Another Day, but at least it tried to do something with the character of Jinx, as played by Halle Berry. It didn’t work, but she didn’t exactly fit the narrative template of a leading actress in a Bond movie. In fact, the Brosnan era tried a few ways to shake things up: Famke Janssen in GoldenEye was the most successful, Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough the least (not helped by a genuinely terrible last line, that would have undermined the whole character had Richards’ unconvincing performance pretty much not done that already). 

Skyfall demonstrates that, nearly 50 years after the first movie, there are still interesting adventures and things to say and do in the Bond universe. But the issue of the ‘Bond girl’ surely is next on the list for revision.

If a woman wants to sleep with James Bond, that’s great. If James Bond wants to sleep with a woman, I’m happy for him. But in a cinematic 007 world that’s become far more real over the past few films, at least address this in a less two-dimensional, throwaway, cringeworthy way. If it’s compulsory to have a mid-film fumble, cut the preamble and just let them get on with it. That, or make it matter somehow.

Let’s not carry on pretending that Roger Moore is wearing the tuxedo, though. The box office numbers for Skyfall demonstrate once more that the world is behind the many revisions that have been made to 007’s big screen adventures. For the next film, I genuinely hope they have the courage to sort out the one glaring area that’s still in need of attention.

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I get the point of the article, but I disagree.

I see Skyfall as a transitional film from the reboot into a new era for the series where we will no doubt start to see more typical Bond films, as the ending of Skyfall indicates that's where the series will head next with Bond 24. Everything is back in place, a new M, Moneypenny, Q, the classic MI6/M/Moneypenny office. Why should we now get rid of of the Bond Girl when everything else has been reintroduced?

The plot of Skyfall didn't really require a Bond Girl I'll agree, other than reintroducing Monyepenny, but it is a different kind of Bond film, as were Craig's two previous ones, so I think it can be forgiven. So just because this and possibly Quantum didn't need a Bond Girl I don't think is a sign they should be dropped.

This article somewhat reminds me of another DoG article from last year I think where it was suggested Bond 23 should be the last Bond film. I just didn't (and still don't) understand why that even came into thinking and it's the same here. The role of the Bond Girl has been so varied over the years that there are a number of Bond films from the past that arguably didn't actually need them. So we've had a couple of Bond films that perhaps didn't need them, but the one before that most certainly did and it maybe the same with Bond 24. For the sake of tradition I think they should still be kept, but if the plot doesn't require them to play a large part in it then I think that's how it should be, instead of shoehorning them into a larger role.

One interesting romantic thing Skyfall does do though: it raises the possible idea of a 'Bond Guy'...

To celebrate Skyfall, a friend and I watched all 23 Bond films over 3 days, and came to this very conclusion after tracking all the women he sleeps with...

In CR, Bond had to fall in love with the woman who dies
In QoS, Bond didn't sleep with the main Bond girl and the other dies
In SF, The Bond girl dies pretty much instantly

We came to the conclusion that people expect more from modern 007, he cannot just shag and ditch a woman for the next film but he cannot 'love' another because that detracts from the point of Vesper. In order for the girl to have any meaning now she either needs to die, have her own vendetta (Camille) or become the career woman that Eve was in SF.

Whilst the idea behind this is that the women are supposed to mean more to the story and to the audience, it has become a kind of anti-feminist argument that, actually, it makes it harder to script a woman and therefore they may have no place in the Bond franchise anymore.

Say what you want about the Moore Bond films (and I could criticise Octopussy and Moonraker forever), at least they had women cast in them. Sure, he slept with airheads but there were also intelligent women that made sense to the plot whom you understood were going to get ditched regardless. With the 'realistic' Craig films you cant have Bond sleep with a woman and then never explain where they wentand therefore can't have women in the first place.

A bond girl is something essential to every bond film despite the era, James Bond's original allure to audiences was he was a womanizing yet charming super spy who would have the fastest car's the most beautiful women on his arm and the craziest gadgets, they may have switched it up to make Bond more "bourne" shall we say, however all the above still appear in each and every bond film right up to Skyfall, bond girls are iconic we may aswell give him a Jack and Coke while hes at the bar and kill off every version of Q if the direction is no bond girls.

I should qualify my statement by saying that as a Bond fanatic I disagree with the article and the new direction Bond is going. There should always be a Bond girl, Vodka Martinis and gadgets. One thing i disliked about Casino Royale was the lack of Q and Moneypenny. Glad they have rectified this finally.

First and foremost, Bond is wish-fulfilment for heterosexual men. There's nothing overly complex about it - it goes all the way back to Fleming. The Bond girls are as much a part of it as every other aspect of the Bond formula. Remove those aspects and it starts to fall apart as it loses what makes the series unique.

I thought SkyFall featured fantastic performances from its three leading ladies - the best female Bond cast ever, I'd wager. But I take the point of the article, in that more needs to be done with the 'lead female' role.

I thought Marlohe was great - beautiful and a fantastically restrained performance - which made her swift exit all the more surprising. It was an effective theatrical device, but I did feel a bit short changed.

Perhaps next time, Bond could face a female protaganist, not a hench-woman, but THE villain of the piece. "Hell Hath No Fury" could be the title.

I agree with the female cast in Skyfall being great, but you can't have M and Moneypenny as the 2 main girls in a Bond film because then it is not so much about Bond but more of an emsemble cast. There needs to be a female lead that is part of the main plot. My idea was to have Bond work with essentially the female version of himself, a woman 00 agent that he is on the same misson as. They can sex but it doesn't have to mean anything.

Have not seen Skyfall yet and only read the headline to this article, but they are called Bondgirls for a reason. They are his girls and I would not get in the way of Bond and his Girls. He needs his girls as much as he needs flamboyant villains and crazy henchmen. Before you know it they will strip him of his gadgets and licence to kill. Have him drive around in Beetle, drink Coke zero and dress him in 2nd hand clothing.
Nonsense! Keep the girls, he is Bond, James Bond. Not some generic action hero.

True, not that I think it would go down (excuse the pun) well with the traditional Bond audience, but bedding people in the name of espionage would require a more open mind and a more omniverous approach.

Tbf Electra King in The World is not Enough was actually the villian of the film, Renard was just a pawn in her little plan...Get what you mean though, maybe it's time the female was genuinely an out and out antagonist that was clear from the film's very beginning.

I suspect the Bond Girls are one of the reasons I've never been terribly into Bond. Why care about a franchise that sees me as an object?

SPOILER ALERT I'm torn on Skyfall. On the one hand, I think it's very well intentioned. M and Moneypenny are both fab and even the throaway girl got a bit of sympathy courtesy of her horrific backstory. On the other hand... by the end of the film, of 3 female characters, 2 are dead and the 3rd has taken a desk job saying she's not suited to field work. A man is in charge again. Kinda seems like going backwards...

If the next film has a female field agent like Moneypenny who doesn't die, go evil, or both, or take a desk job, then I think all is well. If not, I may start having a problem...

(You could hear the audience hold their breath while Javier Bardem was interrogating Bond - like no one was quite sure how to react. It was quite funny).

Funnily enough, DC's Bond has never got the girl at the end, so far. Every other Bond film, with the obvious exception of OHMSS, the final scene is Bond with his lover and some choice double entendre. In fact, Miss Moneypenny is the first (named) lady to survive sleeping with Bond since DC started in the role.

Therefore, I'd say the process has already begun, and that Berenice Marlohe's character is a throwback in much the same way as the DB5 at the end is.

Skyfall didn't have traditional bondgirls. One is revealed to be someone else, and now is part of the cast. The other serves her purpose very quick, every Bond movie has one of that kind, and the woman that gets the more screentime and importance for the plot, alongside Bond, is M. I should say that the real bondgirl in this movie is M.

I think that Daniel Craig's tenure as Bond has resulted in the greatest effort so far to develop the female roles in the series. First with Vesper in Casino Royale, but more refreshingly for me, with the character of Camille in Quantum of Solace.

Their respective motivations are independent of each other and their bond is emotional rather than physical. I thought it was a real development and really enjoyed it.

This is however undermined by the pointless 'traditional' Bond girl role of Gemma Arterton's Strawberry Fields.

I think an interesting way forward for Broccoli and Wilson, would be to hire a female director or writer for Bond 24....anyone have Kathryn Bigelow's email?....

What ! No bond girls will this mean a gay bond played by graham norton

but....their hot. Isn't that the point?

The worst part of an otherwise brilliant film in Skyfall was the shower scene.

I don't mind him having a sexual partner when he was "dead", I didn't mind him flirting with Moneypenny, thus setting up their usual dynamic for later films. What I did have a problem with was Bond just casually walking in on a woman in the shower and her being totally OK with it (so much so to not even check it was him), when earlier their discussions were purely business and revenge based (quite directly so at some points). It didn't serve any purpose at all, not even any grieving when she was shot later on. It was utterly meaningless.

Other than that one part though, it was aces all around. I get that in the "fast life" of a secret service agent, their sex lives would be just as fast, but sometimes it is insulting.

My next nitpick with Bond would be, could we ever see a Bond movie where the enemy doesn't actually know he's James Bond of British Intelligence, and instead he acts as a genuine covert undercover spy.

In License to Kill he is actually spy-like and infiltrates the enemies confidence.

I thought the scene when Eve was shaving him was boring and should have been cut.

I know I'm in the minority, but I don't think Skyfall is that great a Bond film at all. I'm going to see it again to double-check, but there were parts which could have been better. There wasn't a fight with the baddie at the end, there should have been a more emotional reason for going to the lodge - I'm all for Bond resolving his childhood nightmare by burning it down (even if it was poor Albert Finney's home) but his near-death at the beginning should have made him re-evaluate his existence and face his past, thus returning to the lodge, instead of just using the place as a bolt-hole. That whole last reel has been seen in other films like 'Witness', 'Firewall', 'Shooter', 'Die Hard', 'Patriot Games', 'Safe House' and even 'Home Alone'. There was a little too much exposition in the dialogue (we know the agents' covers being blown puts them in danger without M saying so); the 'girl' wasn't delineated well enough and I can't even remember where she went; Bond got captured and escaped too easily somewhere in the middle section; and despite indications to the contrary humour still isn't prevalent. When he was dangling that guy off the building he should have said, "He was a hanger-on." And when Bond was exercising while being debrief by Tanner - who I'm glad we've kept - Bond should have conveyed his annoyance. But I liked Q - although why they met in a gallery I have no idea, presumably to make it a little different - and the tube scene and the court scene were amazing and I liked how the latter made it clear where the hitherto ambiguous Mallory's allegiances lay. I also liked how Bond wasn't acting at full capacity - it added tension as it indicated that he could easily fail.

I would agree that the scene in question is a little, um, "rapey".

But yes, as V511 says, Licence to Kill services your second nitpick. It has one of the most involving plots in the series and it's completely believable as to why the Baddie, Sanchez, doesn't just kill Bond straight away.

"Might it be time to lose the ‘Bond girl’?"

Nope.

"Judi Dench has delivered the best female character ever in the Bond franchise I’d argue"

This is very true, but it's also unfair on the others in a way as she has had 7 films to establish her character.

Also, I'm more than slightly surprised that no one has brought up the 'Bond films = sexist' argument yet...

Well I've heard it all...It's not bad enough that Bond is the only TV/screen hero that hasn't (yet) turned into a androgynous big girl's blouse - this PC stupidity is getting stupid. 'They' won't be satisfied until 007 is a black disabled lesbian who was abused by Jimmy Savile.

"A man is in charge again. Kinda seems like going backwards..."

That's 'coz Bond is a MAN film, now get back in the kitchen and make me a sammich'...

That's a great plot for the next Bond film... uh, maybe not then...

I just want to see a Bond film where the girl isn't actually into him at first. They don't trade lines, she's thinks he's a bit of a tosser, and he does something to win her over. I think that would be a nice, fresh approach to it.

See, this argument doesn't play with me for a very good reason. If you had a female lead spy who was as good looking as Craig's Bond, you wouldn't question it for a moment when the males around her were falling for her left and right (whether for casual sex or more). Craig's Bond is a darn good looking guy - not as hot as young Sean Connery (era of Dr No, From Russia with Love), who one could readily believe could just walk into a bar and be swarmed by women, but still very good looking. Most of the female audience would jump into bed with him in an instant - again, you wouldn't expect any differently if it was a women who was equivalently good-looking.

Women wanting to have sex with Bond on short notice was a problem during the era of Moore and Brosnan, as Moore was both older and not that good looking, and Brosnan was routinely cast with women half his age. Early Connery and Daniel Craig are stunning young men - why assume that plenty of women wouldn't want to sleep with them?

Don't make a sniper into a secretary.

That particular scene is worse when you consider her background as essentially a sex slave since childhood. It was a totally jarring moment precisely because it was so unnecessary and throwaway. He didn't even care when she died... Nobody wants Bond to be sensitive, but the last two films at least set him up as relatable and human; in Skyfall he came across as predatory and cruel in some scenes

While I think the title Hell hath no fury would be giving the game away a bit, I would like to see a Bond movie where the bond girl is revealed to be the true villain 2 thirds of the way through. Up until then she could be someone who sleeps with Bond because she is wants to and is using him for his access to government secrets or whatever her nefarious plan ends up being.

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