Posted Friday, Nov. 9, 2012, at 4:24 PM
In a sharp video essay for Press Play, Deborah Lipp made an argument in favor of the Bond Girl, that oldest of cheesecake chestnuts, as a feminist icon. Whether you agree with her or not, it's undeniable that since 2006, when Daniel Craig took over the franchise, the James Bond movies have been playing with the idea of the Bond Girl and adding variety and emotional nuance to 007's relationships with women. With the arrival of Skyfall, Craig's third outing in the tuxedo, it may be time to herald the end of the Bond Girl and the rise of the Bond Woman.
Craig's Bond Girls are more Bond's equals than they've ever been. Casino Royale made a dramatic break with Bond tradition in making Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), the Treasury agent overseeing Bond at his high-stakes poker game in Monte Carlo, more than an occasion for a joke, and skeptical of Bond, rather than excited to surrender to him. In Goldfinger, Bond thoroughly conquered lesbian lady pilot Pussy Galore, to the point of flipping her sexual orientation. But in Casino Royale, after experiencing poisoning and torture, Craig’s bond tells Vesper: "I have no armor left. You've stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me—whatever I am—I'm yours." And in Skyfall, Bond doesn't even have sex with the Bond Woman! Eve (Naomie Harris) can drive a Jeep like a maniac, handle a sniper rifle, and rock a casino in a gold gown. When Bond starts unbuttoning her blouse, she shuts him down—old-fashioned straight razor to his throat, a sharp turn toward a beautiful friendship. It used to be the Bond girls were slightly ridiculous figures, like Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough, restored to their proper, plausible place once Bond seduced them. Casino Royale dared to make a woman a worthy foil for Bond, someone who could skewer him over dinner conversation and beat him at his own games of deception. Skyfall continues that welcome trend.
And then there's Bond's relationship with M. Judi Dench has been having fun playing Bond's boss since the Pierce Brosnan era. Then, she called the secret agent a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War." But since Daniel Craig got the keys to the Aston Martin, the dynamic's been different: Bond's come into the modern era not because he's stopped sleeping with attractive women, but because he's become a character who's capable of being friends with them.
M and Bond's disagreements can be fierce, even murderous—M can't abide Bond's immaturity, and Skyfall begins with M ordering Eve to take a shot at a terrorist even though it risks killing Bond as well. But their fights are driven by their deep knowledge of and investment in each other. In Casino Royale, Bond irritates M by breaking into her house and hacking her laptop, but she's genuinely concerned for him when Vesper betrays him. In Skyfall, Bond is understandably bitter when Eve's shot goes awry, but he returns to England when it becomes clear that a terrorist attacking his country is doing so specifically to harm M's reputation and person. "It's not very comfortable, is it?" M tells Bond when the two of them go on the run from that terrorist in a vintage Aston Martin. "Are you going to complain the whole way?" Bond asks her. Dana Stevens suggests that M is Bond's soulmate, but really, they've been starring in the best buddies-roadtrip franchise ever made over their last three movies.
The Bond franchise has modernized tremendously in the last six years, grounding its villains in new geopolitical realities, updating its fight choreography, and creating strong new roles for African-American characters. But there's no clearer sign that we're in a great new Bond era that it's now just as much fun to watch Bond talk to a woman as it is to see him take one to bed.