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.