I’ll fess up at the outset: as a white hetero guy, the new Bond flick Skyfall is a great yarn. It hits all the right Bond notes: great soundtrack including, of course, Adele’s terrific theme song. It is chock-a-block with edge-of-seat thrills combined with well paced character and plot building sequences. And there are some really exciting stunts, including in the opening sequence a motorcycle chase on the ceramic tile rooftops over the grand bazar in Istanbaul. And, of course, the ever dapper Bond in his suits with his suave demeanor who serves up an excellent cool-as-a-cuke and patriotically loyal agent. Yes indeed, this one works. Audiences are thrilled, the critics are a-swoon. But here’s what’s missing from the latest Bon(d)-fete: even a baseline of gender intelligence. Worse, there is the lingering smell of homophobia in the superbly acted supervillain (played by Javier Bardem). The villain is creepy, funny, psychotic – everything you could ask for, but whose characterization as evil is unnecessarily rooted in homoeroticism.
Here’s some of the tally. Except for Dame Judy Dench, the ladies were bed toys, nursemaids, sex slaves, targets, and – even where there was one bright hope for something a little different, a partner in the field and a woman who could not only keep up with Bond but who could save him in a pinch, [plot spoiler alert] unfortunately she is also the agent who accidentally shoots Bond, who serves in part as his agency mistress, and by the end of the film has traded in her gun for a typewriter. Added to this is a moral hierarchy that is white through and through (Judy Dench, Ralph Fiennes, an assortment of white MPs, white computer geek), and a villainy that isn’t white – Bardem’s supervillain, prostitutes and gangsters. Moneypenny (played by Naomie Harris) seems to be adding a little diversity to the Empire in the opening sequences, but quickly fades to the background, and only returns prominently to the storyline near the end in her secretarial role.
Am I asking too much from a Hollywood blockbuster? After all, the gender and sexual political state of other recent films in the romp-genre isn’t exactly inspirational (think The Avengers, the Sherlock Holmes franchise, Ironman, Star Trek, etc.). It’s hard not to expect the worst, even when a film is great fun, like Skyfall.
[The following column by London Times journo Giles Coren was refused by his editors for the vaguely-bullshit-seeming reason that "there's already too much Bond out there." So his wife published it on her cooking blog (although the gender politics of that interaction also seems a bit fishy). Anyway:]
There is a moment in the new James Bond film so vile, sexist and sad that it made me feel physically sick. If you have not seen the film and fear a spoiler, then look away now. Or cancel your tickets and do something less horrible instead. Like pull all your fingernails out.
In short, there is a young woman in this film whom Bond correctly identifies (in his smug, smart-arse way) as a sex-worker who was kidnapped and enslaved as a child by human traffickers. She is now a brutalised and unwilling gangster’s moll. She gives no sign of being sexually interested in Bond, merely of being incredibly scared and unhappy. So he creeps uninvited into her hotel shower cubicle later that night, like Jimmy Savile, and silently screws her because he is bored.
That is vile enough. And totally out of keeping, I’d have thought, with Daniel Craig’s Bond. But it gets much worse when she is later tied up with a glass of whisky on her head in a hilarious William Tell spoof, and shot dead in a game devised by the baddie. We knew already knew the baddie was bad, so there was no plot developing element here. It was merely disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn (like when Roger Moore torpedoed the beautiful girl in the helicopter in The Spy Who Loved Me and then joked about it – a scene from which it has taken me 35 years to recover).
The ‘new’ Bond’s immediate response to the killing of a tragic, abused, indentured slave woman is to say, “waste of good scotch” (this must be the ‘humour’ Daniel Craig said he was keen to put back into the role) and then kill everyone. He could have done it three minutes before and saved her. But that wouldn’t have been as funny, I guess.
That Macallan (the whisky brand on her head) presumably paid to be involved in the scene, as part of the film’s much-touted product placement programme, is utterly baffling to me.