Belated Skyfall Review OR Where It Went Off The Rails OR Bond Girls Shouldn’t Be A Thing Anymore

I finally saw Skyfall this weekend, and I have some thoughts.  But first, here are my general Bond opinions so you know where I’m coming from: I don’t love Daniel Craig as Bond but nor do I hate him, I really liked Quantum of Solace and didn’t care for Casino Royale (the last third of that movie was just a mess), and I’m pretty sure I’ve watched every previous Bond movie on cable with my folks at some point over the course of my life.  So I dig Bond generally, and I’m kind of neutral on the Craig era.

PLEASE NOTE: I’m going to spoil most of the movie now, so if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want it ruined then look away because SPOILERS!!

There’s a lot that’s really good about Skyfall, even though it turns into Home Alone at the end.  The opening sequence with the car chase that turns into a motorcycle chase that turns into a whole crazy train situation was fantastic and really well done, I dug the plot of someone trying to ruin M and Bond resurrecting himself (the train situation didn’t end well) to come help out, and everyone was very well cast.  Plus there were lots of cool little things: Q is back and he has fun gadgets and super great hair, Javier Bardem is enjoyably weird and evil as the bad guy, someone gets eaten by a lizard… Skyfall’s got everything you need in a Bond movie.

Weirdly, the best part of Skyfall is how it sets up the next Bond movie to be more in the classic mould.  All of the old pieces are back in place with Q and a new Moneypenny, and with Ralph Fiennes as the new M the franchise is poised to make a clear break from the current status quo.  The dark, gritty Bond, with its depressing continuity since Casino Royale, could give way to a somewhat lighter era if they so choose.

All in all, it’s a decent Bond flick, though a tad long and I don’t really need to know about Bond’s childhood.  I’m there to see him bust up bad guys, not learn about the dark mysteries of his past.  But still, it’s good and well done all around.

However, there was one sequence of events that kind of soured the entire movie for me, and it gets at a larger problem with the Bond franchise.  It all revolved around Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Severine, Skyfall’s Bond girl:

Midway through the movie, Bond meets a pretty lady, as he is wont to do.  They have one of those tense, sexy conversations that Bond so enjoys, and it turns out that Severine has been a sex slave since she was a child and that she works for Silva, the bad guy, who she’d like Bond to kill.  So as soon as he can, Bond has sex with her.  Sure, she’s a sex slave and you’d think she might want a break for a change, but come on… who doesn’t want to go to town in the shower with James Bond?

The grossness of Bond getting all up in the sex slave’s business RIGHT away aside, there was another aspect to their hooking up that was problematic.  You can read their liaison as an exchange: Bond took out her bodyguards and is fixing to kill her boss, so she’s going to sleep with him in return.  Like she owes him.  That may not have been the intent of the scene, but it’s very easy to read it that way.  It all felt a little exploitive and unpleasant, but that’s not even the really bad part.  You could READ that bit as gross, but it ACTUALLY gets full on gross after that.

So Bond and Severine get captured by Silva’s goons and arrive on his private island.  Bond and Silva have a long, amusingly homoerotic chat about spy things and Bond is freed, and we don’t see Severine for a while.  When we see her again, she’s bloody and has clearly been beaten, and is still handcuffed.  As we’re reintroduced to her, the shot starts with a close up on her deep cleavage and tracks up to her bloodied and battered face.  So, classy.

Then Silva proposes a game.  He places a glass of scotch on her head, and whoever shoots it off wins.  Bond gets to go first, but misses due to lingering injuries from the train situation at the beginning of the film.  Silva then kills Severine, causing the glass to fall.  Bond’s response to her death was that it was a “waste of good scotch”, then he takes down the goons, gets rescued, and Severine isn’t mentioned again for the entire film.

This was problematic in so many ways.  First, it was just unpleasant.  The sexualization of Severine during her execution turned my stomach a bit.  Second, Bond spent all of Quantum of Solace moping about Vesper, but callously quipped about Severine’s death and never mentioned her again.  I appreciate that he had a longer relationship with Vesper, but the implication is that the loss of a proper British girl is worth his mourning but the loss of a sex slave isn’t worth a second thought.

Third, it brings up a larger problem with the Bond franchise: Bond girls.  Apart from all of this Severine grossness, Bond hooks up with another girl between the train situation and his return to MI6.  We don’t know her name, she doesn’t get any lines, and it appears that Bond leaves her the second he finds out that something bad has gone down in London.  There’s certainly no goodbye scene.  I’m all for sexual liberation and such, but Bond is just a jerk.  He hurts women, bullet through the head hurting one in the case of Severine.  Bond isn’t so much a noble but flawed libertine as he is an exploitive dick.  The women Bond has sex with in Skyfall are expendable in the extreme.  They are good for sex and little else, and aren’t to be missed or lamented.

Now, Bond has always been a rake, and doing it with random ladies has been his modus operandi for fifty years.  But it’s 2012 now, and it’s nice to think of women as people instead of sex objects.  They can do things other than service James Bond.  Well, theoretically anyway.  Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny doesn’t succumb to Bond’s charms, but during the train situation she’s the one that ends up “killing” Bond when her shot takes him out instead of the bad guy.  Ha ha, that lady is bad at being a field agent.  So at the end of the movie, she becomes a secretary instead.

Seriously, all of these things happened in a movie that came out just this month, in the twenty first century.

Even Judi Dench’s M doesn’t come off great in Skyfall.  Her agency loses a top secret list of undercover operatives, she gets beaten and embarrassed at every turn by Silva, she’s asked to retire, gets torn a new one in front of a parliamentary committee, turns out to be a terrible with guns even though she runs the spy division, gets shot because she’s terrible with guns, and then dies.  Oh, and she gets replaced by a man.  At least Bond is sad about her death.  Again, proper British women are worth mourning.

I think it’s about time for the Bond franchise to be done with Bond girls, and to start treating women as characters who are able to do things well.  Or at the very least, they need to take the stereotype that “Bond girl” has become and turn it into something new.  Make Bond girls capable fellow agents or brilliant adversaries or run of the mill gals who are in the movie to do something other than have sex with James Bond.  The Bond franchise has received a massive modern update in the Daniel Craig era, and it’s far past time this modern update extended to female characters as well.

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8 Responses to “Belated Skyfall Review OR Where It Went Off The Rails OR Bond Girls Shouldn’t Be A Thing Anymore”

  1. IronBerserk Says:

    Before I get into this negative comment about your review, I just want to say that I’m a new comer to your blog (I think that’s what this site is) and I love your reviews and opinions on Wonder Woman. Keep up the awesome work!

    However, this review of Bond, Skyfall, and Bond girls in general is quite baffling to me…I don’t think you get it? No offense intended of course. Your negative talk towards Bond girls was weird because you stated before that you didn’t care for Casino Royale…one of the only Bond movie to not treat its woman as a stereotype. CR is probably the best Bond movie of all time and tells the tragedy of how Bond becomes the Bond we know him as…you know, sexualizing women, using them, etc… Bond and Vesper was a fantastic romance story that explains that Bond was once in love, but got betrayed and never trusted women again. It’s a fantastic character piece that gives us a side of Bond we never saw before. You know that third act, the one you didn’t like, it was actually very important. Vesper dying from the drowing and then Bond craddling her in his arms while crying is the moment that Bond broke down and became the cold blooded killer that trusts nobody. Vesper Lynd was the most relevent, important, and non-stereotypical Bond girl that literally brought James Bond to his knees and you don’t even mention her.

    I do realize that this is a Skyfall review and not a Casino Royale review, but I guess its just that comment about Bond girls being irrelevent that confused me and you not caring about CR. You do mention Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale a bit, so I just assumed you were talking about the Daniel Craig Bond in general. Also, Bond was not in love with Severine. Vesper was the only woman he ever loved and after her death and betrayal, he promised he would never love another girl again. And thus the suave, sex maniac, women using James Bond was born. Severine dying…yeah it sucked for him and you could see it in his expression, but he ain’t gonna mope about it. He’s a secret agent, people die all the time.

    As for Judi Dench as M., she was technically the Bond girl of Skyfall. It was her character that was studied and given complexity. She was the mother figure to Bond, and her subtle backstory in relation to Bond was quite intriguing and well done. As for her not coming off great…this is a movie, the characters need obstacles to overcome. She’s been a successful boss in the other movies before for quite some time now. She’s a very smart, intelligent, logical, caring, and strong woman….hmmmm, remind you of someone? :P

    PS: Sorry for such a long post.

    • Tim Hanley Says:

      Thanks for the nice comments about the blog!

      Vesper is my favourite part of Casino Royale, and she’s fantastic in several ways, but overall I just didn’t like the movie as a movie. This whole dark Bond thing really isn’t how I like my Bond, and I thought that the movie fell apart in the last third. My disliking Casino Royale had nothing to do with Vesper, who was one of the film’s few redeeming qualities for me.

      I actually did mention Vesper, in passing, in the review, which is more than Skyfall did :)

      Yes, Bond wasn’t in love with Severine, but Severine was a person at least. She deserved some sort of response, something more than a snide comment after a weirdly eroticized execution and then never being mentioned again.

      Here’s where I think we’re actually fundamentally disagreeing: You’re seeing Vesper and Severine through the prism of Bond and how they relate to him while I, particularly in the case of Severine, am seeing them apart from him. Which is fine, of course. It’s not like you’re approaching it wrong and I’m approaching it right :) It’s just different.

      So in the case of Severine, I don’t particularly care WHY Bond was callous and that he’s got this whole thing with loving Vesper and never loving again. I don’t care about Bond at all. I care about how the treatment of Severine turned my stomach, from the assumption of sex in return for his killing bad guys to the deep cleavage shot tracking up to her bloodied face to her being a pawn in a game of two men to her snidely treated death to her never being mentioned again. I found her treatment upsetting in and of itself. How it relates to Bond is unimportant to me. It was gross.

      As for M, as I said in the review, she didn’t come off great in Skyfall. She was in the movie a lot, yes, but she didn’t actually do much apart from have Bond “killed” and flip a light switch. For the rest of the movie, she was outsmarted at every turn. Plus, here’s what we get for female figures in Skyfall: A mother, a secretary, and a sex object. You can see my concerns :) I expect a lot more from this supposedly modern franchise than relegating women to such antiquated roles.

      A long post is no problem… it’s fun to have the discussion!

      • IronBerserk Says:

        Fantastic comeback and I could see where your coming from. M. being motherly was fine in my book but I could see how it bothers some people. As long as the female characters are not being looked down on, I tend to be fine with it. I mean, she was Bond’s boss after all. She took no shit from him :P

        “I don’t care about Bond at all”. I think that explains why you didn’t enjoy the third act of Casino Royale as much as I did. It was basically all about Bond and how he becomes 007. So are you telling me you watch James Bond movies specifically for the Bond girls?…well I don’t blame or hold a grudge on you for that point :P I could definitely see what the appeal is ;) LOL! But joking aside, it does explain this review and anger towards the whole Severine death. Good stuff.

        However, you got to admit that Bond girls have gotten better ever since Daniel Craig got the role. Vesper, Camille in Quantum who was a simple spy badass seeking revenge (which might I add never slept with Bond, she was simply his partner in seeking that revenge which they both wanted), and M. which you already told me the gripe which was fine. I find there is definite improvement since the Connery to Brosnan era which were all attention seeking dolls that Bond got his way with, no matter how bad he treated them.

      • Tim Hanley Says:

        Yeah, it’s not that I mind M being motherly as much as that in the context of all of the other ladies in the movie being stereotypes, having yet another one seemed a bit much.

        When I said “I don’t care about Bond at all” it was more in that particular circumstance with Severine. I meant that I was more concerned about the lady being beaten and killed and her general mistreatment than I cared about the reasons for Bond’s emotional detachment and callousnes. And I didn’t like the third act of Casino Royale because it was badly done :) I enjoy Bond generally, I just didn’t care for how Skyfall treated Severine. I’m not upset with Bond… more the writer and director of the movie.

        The Bond girls HAD gotten better since Daniel Craig got the role. I feel like Skyfall was a massive step backwards. Which is a real shame, because it was a decent movie apart from how they treated Severine. And I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the next one.

      • IronBerserk Says:

        Cool, thanks for your input. Always nice to have another second opinion that does not rave about the movie like everyone else did. Had fun arguing :) lol!

      • Tim Hanley Says:

        I had fun too. Thanks for the conversation!

  2. Acustic2001 Says:

    I’m not going to give a long comment, I also find the scene where Severine was executed very disturbing. I really don’t have the desire to watch Daniel’s Craig 007 and the treatment for women, Bond is just to0 cold and cruel.

    I also find the Sean Connery 007′s films where he uses women as a shield against bullets disturbing. And I also thought in 2013 where were moving away from that…..

    guess not

    Peace…..

  3. Acustic2001 Says:

    Btw, saw the movie last night on DVD……didn’t bother to watch in the theaters

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