The title of this piece references the book of Genesis from the Judeo-Christian Bible tradition. For those of you not familiar with the story of Genesis, in the beginning there was Archangel Peter Gabriel followed by his disciple Phil Collins.
I feel a Big Time, In The Air Tonight.
I kid of course, in the real story, The Almighty creates a lush, opulent paradise in the fertile crescent from whence all creation sprang. It was a lot like Palm Springs, California but much classier and with better weather. The great creator gives this piece of property to a man and a woman for them to hold dominion over and exert their control, it was called Eden.
A few millennia later another creator ceded a lush and vibrant film property to a man and a woman for them to hold dominion over and exert control, it was called EON.
What my tortured biblical analogy is setting up is discussion over the “feminism” present in Bond since “devout feminist” Barbara “Babzy” Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson (MGW) took over the films and how these two have fumbled it into a cocked hat.
Albert “Cubby” Broccoli handed to his daughter Barbara and step-son MGW a fully functional “turn key” production company which held the rights to one of the hottest film series in cinematic history. It was also very pro woman at that time and while Cubby had officially stepped down as producer he kept his hand on the the tiller of the vessel until his passing at the start of production for Tomorrow Never Dies.
To track Babzy’s feminist fall from grace we will look at Judy Dench’s M from her debut in Goldeneye through to her cameo in SPECTRE along with several categories of Bond girls present in the films, some of these are:
“Window Dressing,” women who play no real role in the plot nor do they sleep with Bond, their main purpose is to provide “eye candy.”
“Disposable Conquest/Sacrificial Lamb,” women who have a brief appearance as a quick love interest and/or die as part of the plot.
“Tag-a-Long,” a woman who is usually the main companion of Bond through some or all of the mission.
“Femme Fatale/Henchwoman,” woman working for the enemy.
“Lady Leiter,” a woman working for another espionage agency alongside Bond much like the character of Felix Leiter.
Through this prism I will be exploring the subject of feminism in the films and rating the films on the “fem-o-meter,” my highly subjective and not at all scientific scale of girl power and feminism.
Any Bond fan, even the most rabid Craig-o-phile would put this film in their top three Bond films of the last thirty years, it’s also pound for pound the most feminist and “girl power” of the series. Let’s look at the feminism bona fides:
I like my bourbon like I like my men, sexist and misogynistic.
Dench starts strong in this film dressing down Tanner when he’s caught snarking it up at her expense, not to mention her back and forth with Bond. She knocks back straight bourbon, a traditionally male drink, while calling Bond a “relic of the cold war” and a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” telling him she has “no compunction about sending him to his death, just not on a whim.” She’s not afraid to make a life or death decision and mix it up with the Russians.
This is a very “body positive” film, so there’s no “eye candy” to speak of, unless you count Minnie Driver and her back up singers “strangling a cat.”
Even these girls aren’t much to look at… well, except for certain attributes, that picture of Connery knows what I’m talking about!
In fact most of the women outside of the two major characters are rather quite plain. Like Natalia’s Severnya coworker “Anna.”
Same woman, except on the left she was “Goldeneyed.”
Speaking of plain Janes, Bond’s first conquest in this film is just that. I’m not saying she’s unattractive, just not the most glamorous woman, especially the way they have her all frumped up in those tweeds and that cocker spaniel hairdo.
Separated at birth?
On top of her being not just another pretty face she’s also a psychologist sent to evaluate Bond, so there’s more to her than just a frumpy tweed suit, Girl Power!
No sacrificial lambs in this film, however Trevelyan asks if Bond, “finds forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women for the ones he couldn’t save.” That shows Bond has feelings for women who cross his path which is important for comparison in the next rant.
Isabella Scorupco’s Natalya Simonova is Bond’s companion through this adventure and even she is deglamorized, playing down her natural beauty for a more stodgy appearance, of course that is fitting for a Siberian computer programmer.
Same woman, also bear in mind she’s nearly 20 years older in the photo on the right!
I hesitate to call her a simple tag-a-long, yet she doesn’t quite fit any other mold. She shows a good deal of resourcefulness in conning the IBM store manager into letting her use a computer. She also spikes Boris’ modem in order to track it’s source allowing her and Bond to get a ballpark location on the villain’s lair.
In reality one could argue she is in fact the hero of the story once Bond gets wrapped up in his revenge. She’s the one who reprograms the satellite to harmlessly burn up in the earth’s atmosphere and ultimately saves Bond by hijacking an enemy helicopter for him to escape the burning radar tower!
In action saving the day!
Famke Janssen plays Xenia Onatopp a former Soviet fighter pilot turned killer who gets sexual gratification when she murders, especially when she’s does so crushing men to death with her thighs! Need I say any more?
I didn’t plan on being a psychotic who gets sexual gratification from murder, but here I am crushing it!
#metoo? Yes please!
Bond meets Moneypenny in M’s office dressed in an evening gown, because she was out on a date with a gentleman. Thus showing she’s an independent woman who doesn’t “sit around all night waiting to run down and see the great James Bond.” She also mentions “sexual harassment,” the #metoo before #metoo which is what bugs me about the movement. We’ve been through all this before, a quarter century ago. Due to the million dollar lawsuits to come out of the 90’s, nobody is patting their secretaries on the rump and suggesting that if they want a raise they need to perform sexual acts, at least not outside of Hollywood.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Very strong females in here, but a few points off the “fem-o-meter” for some of the dialog.
Dench’s M reaches her zenith in this film, standing toe to toe with Admiral Roebuck a high ranking official in the admiralty, rebuking his comment that she “doesn’t have the balls for this job,” by quipping she “doesn’t have to think with them all the time.”
Balls? I keep yours next to mine, in a jar in my purse.
She also has the courage to send Bond off to investigate Elliot Carver, an extremely powerful and well connected media mogul who has governments shaking in their shoes! She accomplishes all this without leaving the confines of London! Yes, this is before the producers felt the need to have her bugger off all over the world to micromanage Bond, but more on that in later films.
Just one in the form of Elliot Carver’s overly efficient and multilingual assistant in Hamburg who calms the crowd after Bond disrupts their broadcast.
Everyone remain calm, nothing to see here.
Disposable Conquest/Sacrificial Lamb
Our disposable conquest in this film is in the form of a Danish professor at Oxford whom we find in Bond’s arms after the opening titles.
Hello? Hello? Damn AT&T service!
She’s a professor at Oxford so there’s that, but I got to take a few points off the “fem-o-meter” for the dialog leading Moneypenny to remark on what a “cunning linguist” Bond is.
Also this, points off the “fem-o-meter,” but points on the “Benny-o-meter!”
The sacrificial lamb comes in the guise of Elliot’s wife Paris Carver played by Teri Hatcher before she became a desperate homemaker.
The desperation in her eyes was palpable even then.
She sacrifices herself giving Bond information about her maniacal husband’s secret laboratory, which leads Bond to the secret decoder used to control all satellites!
Just make sure to set it to B 2!
When Paris is killed Bond shows remorse for her passing sulking over her corpse and kissing her one last goodbye.
Farewell my sweet, say hello to your career in the after life for me.
Michelle Yeoh as Col. Wai Lin is in my opinion the best example of the character type.
Need I say more?
She convincingly takes on a handful of assassins in her Saigon safe house with her martial art expertise, she also single-handedly disables the engine room of Carver’s stealth boat.
Some other highlights include the fact she found Carver’s secret lab on her own, where Bond needed to be told by Paris. Lin is further able to slip away undetected in the confusion that follows the faux pas of setting off the alarm, so I guess those two cancel each other out. However she shows the willingness to sacrifice herself by tossing Bond the explosive detonators to set off the missile counting down to lift off.
On top of the “cunning linguist” pun she also makes some cringe inducing remarks about “pumping” Paris Carver for information, so a few points off for that.
Pump, pump, pump!!!!
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
In to this garden of paradise creeps a two headed serpent by the names of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. These men burrowed themselves into the series like a pair of screen writing ticks. Fortunately there were others on hand to hem in their more destructive impulses. Namely Bruce Feirstein, penman of the previous two films and the uncredited Dana Stevens,the second woman to write on a Bond film and whom EON seem happy to forget in their supposed unwavering support of feminism. I guess the narrative surrounding Phoebe Waller-Bridge is more important than the history of the franchise, but I digress.
A creeping self doubt begins to infect the character in this film. She doubts her original decision not to negotiate with the terrorist Renard. Because of this she undermines Bond and places herself in danger by getting kidnapped.
Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!
More importantly from this picture forward we will never see the confident self assured woman we met in the first two films.
Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta plays “Cigar Girl” a trained assassin who dispatches a defecting operative by skillfully flinging a knife into the base of his skull.
After a bomb goes off at MI6 headquarters she returns and unskillfully uses an assault rifle,
Assault rifle? Check. Laser sight? Check. Scope? Check. Leather jumpsuit? Triple check. Accuracy? Nah!
a grenade launcher,
and a machine gun
All those bullets so little impact.
in an attempt to dispatch Bond. She blows herself up in a balloon rather than surrender and turn informant.
A sad but colorful end.
Serena Scott Thomas plays MI6 doctor Molly Warmflash a silly woman with a silly name who is willing to falsify medical records in exchange for sexual favors.
I’ll counterfeit your X-rays if you let me touch you pectoral muscles!
She also explains Renard’s brain injury which provides the source of his strength.
Ooh, I wonder what I can get in trade for this?!
One of my least favorite Bond girls played by one of my least favorite actresses. Denise Richards as “Dr.” Christmas Jones.
Like video game character Laura Croft but more dead behind the eyes.
Not to say Richard’s performance is wooden, but she was growing knot holes on her forehead during the film.
A tour de force performance in pine.
However, for all her faults in the end she is a nuclear physicist and does put that detail to good use defusing an atomic bomb, something I can’t say for more recent female characters.
In this case villainess is more apropos, Sophie Marceau plays Elektra King kidnapping victim turned patricidal petroleum terrorist.
Lady in red, that dress was white before she slaughtered everyone in her way.
According to the book The World Is Not Enough: A Companion, punching up the Elektra character was the responsibility of forgotten scribe Dana Stevens, which explains why she’s so uncharacteristically well fleshed out compared to the usual Purvis and Wade mold. She’s strong willed, ambitious yet has moments of vulnerability owing to her kidnapping, which ironically kind of hurts her motivations. Bond makes a comment that “she turned Renard” while in his custody, if so that means she had designs on murdering her father and taking over the family oil empire all along, making her an unsympathetic killer. Conversely if she was corrupted while being held, how could such a strong woman be turned into such a monster?
Outside of that detail she’s a strong villain, fooling MI6, kidnapping M and torturing Bond.
I’ll also point out Brosnan’s reaction to her death, hunching over her body and showing remorse for killing her, despite the fact she was plotting an act of nuclear terrorism. Showing Bond to have pity for women.
Sure she was a homicidal whack job bent on radiating a city and its population, but she wasn’t all bad.
Die Another Day (2002)
The last film to at least attempt to have strong, competent women, rather than rough sketches that the PR machine had to rehabilitate during the advertising campaign.
This film represents M’s complete transformation from strong willed, competent and capable leader who commands respect, to a weak, hapless bureaucrat who gets bulldozed by other miserable bureaucrats.
M gets pushed around by some bloke named Falco the head of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) played by Michael Madsen, when he could be pulled away from drinking his career in to a disaster of sub Steven Segal caliber.
Wait, you mean to tell me there’s an opening in the newest Russian produced straight to video movie?! Hand me a drink and tell me where to sign up!
In reality the NSA is nothing more than a bunch of desk bound annalists who pour over cyber information and websites (hi boys!) looking for intel. However in this film they’re promoted to CIA style field agents, why they went this route I don’t know and is best saved for another rant. Point is they also seem to somehow be MI6’s superiors because M gets told off by Falco in every interaction they partake. M cowers and disavows Bond once he’s returned from Korea on the American’s orders, “get your house in order or we’ll do it for you.”.
I know you’re the head of a separate espionage agency of an entirely different sovereign nation, but I’m the boss.
remember when M sent Bond off to investigate Carver two films ago knowing full well how much power and influence he held. Yeah, well now she’s fearful of some glorified diamond merchant who came out of nowhere 18 months earlier and can only send in Bond because he’s been disavowed. Also, from this film on she’ll be turning up in the field for no good reason micromanaging her agents. I give her a pass in TWINE since the situation had a personal aspect to it, but here it’s pathetic.
Other than a few nurses and Cuban prostitutes we have Rachel Grant as “Peaceful Fountains of Desire,” a Chinese agent acting as a masseuse in Hong Kong.
If you’re an enemy agent, she love you long time.
There’s also an appearance by a rough, reptilian bit of leather.
And there’s a crocodile bustier in the film as well.
Roasmund Pike plays Miranda Frost an MI6 agent assigned to keep tabs on the villain Gustav Graves.
Ice, ice baby.
She is in reality a turn coat because it seems they needed her to be. I don’t get her motivation here, they explain Graves/Col. Moon turned her when he rigged the Olympic fencing match she competed in by killing the true winner with a steroid overdose. But is that all it took? Is she also in love with Moon/Graves or is she so shallow that an unearned gold medal is enough to get her to sell out her country?
Remember, I stole you that participation trophy, so you’re mine now.
And if I may, a steroid overdose after the competition? Guess she was after that famous human growth high? Not to mention are steroids an effective performance enhancer for fencing? I mean isn’t fencing more about endurance and skill than shear strength?
I’ll just leave this right here.
Once again Brosnan shows remorse over the death of a female villain indicating a sympathy for women. We’ll compare that to scenes in the latter films next rant.
Halle Berry plays American NSA agent Jinx who instead of spending her days reading other people’s emails (hi again boys), is inexplicably gallivanting about murdering Cuban plastic surgeons.
That’s for my tummy tuck!
Berry, fresh from her Oscar for best performance in a soft core porn seems to have gotten the two roles confused.
She gives a performance so phoned in you can hear the dial tone, however with lines like “yo mama” and “read this bitch,” do you blame her? Much was made of her strong female character, but compared to Michelle Yeoh two films earlier it’s just so much lip service.
Strong female role models, or adolescent fantasy? You decide.
In what has to be one of the most cringe worthy moments of the series we’re treated to Moneypenny’s dalliance into virtual sex with the Q branch firearms trainer!
Q: Were you watching Die Another Day again Miss Moneypenny?
MP: No, No, I, I was… Just pleasuring myself in the most degrading fashion possible.
Q: Oh good, otherwise that would have been embarrassing!
Join me next time for part two when we further explore Barbara Broccoli’s celluloid misogyny.