'Spectre' Review: If a Woman Doesn't Have Sex With James Bond, Did She Ever Really Exist?
By John Boone
Photo: Columbia Pictures
At this point, you know what you’re going to get with one of Daniel Craig’s James Bond films. Spectre contains all the car chases (now, extra Fast & Furious-like!) and evil villains doing evil scheming and mandatory notches added to Bond’s bedpost that you would expect. It’s at once both needlessly complicated, and kind of corny. It’s a fun time while it lasts. Typical Bond.
(WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for the latest Bond film.)
Surprisingly -- or not, as Craig has previously said he would rather “slit his wrists” than play everyone’s favorite spy in a fifth movie -- Spectre does appear to conclude his tenure as 007, sending him off into the proverbial sunset in his beloved Aston Martin.
As the credits rolled, we found ourselves less concerned with whether the quadrilogy stuck its landing than with what we want out of the next iteration of Bond, James Bond. There’s been so much time and energy wasted debating whether Bond can be black -- of course he can, it’s insane to think otherwise -- but here’s a question: Can Bond still be Bond if women are treated like actual humans in his movies?
“Hopefully my Bond is not as sexist and misogynistic as [earlier incarnations],” Craig told Esquire. “The world has changed. I am certainly not that person. But he is, and so what does that mean? It means you cast great actresses and make the parts as good as you can for the women in the movies.”
So what happened? The latest crop of Bond films started off promising. Bring up whatever complaints you have about Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale -- most of which are probably valid -- but at least she was a complex character. Less so for the Bond Girls that succeeded her -- Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) in Skyfall -- but they were still an improvement over the Mary Goodnights and Octopussys of decades past.
Plus, the gender-bending of Judy Dench’s M wasn’t just a good omen, it was bloody brilliant.
Then there’s Spectre. This is the Bond installment that has so celebrated the pomp and circumstance surrounding Bond finally seducing and older woman -- or, more aptly, a woman his age. “For the first time in history, James Bond is going to have a story with a mature woman," Monica Belluci, then 50, said of playing the oldest love interest in franchise history. "I'm not a girl, I'm a woman.”
She is also in the movie for all of five minutes; despite what the marketing would lead you to believe. Any potentially interesting developments that would come from Bond romancing a contemporary are ultimately squandered.
Instead, Bond seduces her character, Lucia Sciarra, during a funeral -- her husband’s funeral -- and then shows up unannounced at her home later, where she feeds him some apparently essential information and, after she sheds a single tear, Bond has sex with her. That is the entirety of her plotline -- she is the wife of someone important and attractive enough for Bond to forget that she’s not 23.
A brief, but not entirely unrelated sidebar: Belluci provides the movie’s most baffling scene, when, post-coitus, as Bond dresses across the room, she tries to convince him to stay. Except suddenly she is in full lingerie? You don’t see them, but one has to assume she’s wearing heels in bed too. Because that’s how little sense it makes.
Whereas Bellucci’s Sciarra fulfills the requirement for some sort of sexual conquest/femme fatale trope, Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann is little more than a damsel in distress. No matter how many times she protests that she can save herself, she would be dead in her first two minutes onscreen if it weren’t for Bond. And the distressing only becomes more cliché as the movie continues.
“Don’t think for one moment this is where I fall into your arms and seek solace for my dead daddy,” she says early on, after Bond saves her and brings her to a hotel to bunk down. For a minute, you foolishly believe that Swann is going to be a different type of Bond Girl, even though she comes complete with the prerequisite daddy issues and dons a silky nightie that shows off the obligatory amount of cleavage as she tells him off. “Touch me, and I kill you.”
That brazenness in the face of Bond’s supposed charms is short-lived. Soon after, as the two dine together aboard a train, this exchange takes place:
Swann: “You shouldn’t stare.”
Bond: “You shouldn’t look like that.”
And after saving her life -- once again! -- Bond is rewarded by finally getting to have sex with her, too. Swann was never really opposed to sleeping with him; sometimes the silly women in Bond movies just say things.
And why not? Every single interaction Bond has with a woman is sexually charged, even with his platonic (supposedly) coworker, Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Moneypenny was introduced as a competent MI6 field agent in Skyfall and then infuriatingly demoted to secretary at the end of that film, and now mostly just spends her screen time bantering with that cad Bond.
Every conversation she has with Bond is done in such a wink-wink fashion that he might as well turn to the camera and wink after every double entendre. It might be more subtle. When Bond calls on her for assistance, Moneypenny just happens to be in a slip as well, having woken up in the middle of the night next to a “friend.” Bond’s response? “A friend? At his time of night?!”
Doesn’t she know he’s the only one who’s allowed to sleep around?
So Spectre fails women on an individual level, but even worse is what the franchise seems to think of women on the whole. Christoph Waltz’s villainous Franz Oberhauser reveals, via a mustache-twirling monologue, that over the course of these four films, he has been killing off Bond’s girls as a way to get back at him.
If you’re to believe Spectre, Bond Girls -- or women, if we’re worried that what they are called is more misogynistic than who they are -- are expendable, only used up and killed off to hurt Bond. Then, only sexually available and vulnerable to help him get him over that last woman’s death.
So back to the original question: In 2015, can we have a woman in a Bond film whose third dimension isn’t her boobs? Can a woman be more than a femme fatale or flirty sidekick? Can we have a Bond Girl who isn’t a sacrificial lamb at the altar of Bond’s masculinity?
Or is that just not Bond anymore, then?
Now, find out why Craig is so opposed to returning to the role of 007: