James Bond: Is It Time to Die?
The Bond franchise has long surpassed the 50-year milestone. With seven portrayals of the titular character across 26 films and six decades, and with No Time To Die (TBA) just around the corner, the Bond brand has become synonymous with traditional British culture, going so far as to be featured in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. According to Forbes, Bond is the third highest-grossing franchise of all time, putting it right behind Star Wars and Marvel. 007 himself has been hailed as a cultural icon, and the films have heavily influenced our perception of idealised masculine identity. But given its flawed history of misogyny, can the Bond franchise be saved?
Although the Bond films have always placed men at the centre of their target audience, they are certainly not something that only men enjoy. They have grown in popularity among women, despite their often sexist portrayal of female characters. The ‘Bond Girls’ have become a staple of the series, an object of sexual desire and conquest for James Bond to pursue and discard as he pleases. In Casino Royale (2006), Vesper Lynd perfectly sums up Bond's perception of women, telling him: “You think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits.”
Though the modern ‘Bond Girls’ aren’t treated as badly as they were in older iterations of the films, they are still subject to the sexist, misogynistic, and voyeuristic style of filmmaking that has plagued the franchise since the very beginning. During Sean Connery’s era, the ‘Bond Girls’ were given names with sexual connotations, like ‘Pussy Galore’ and ‘Honey Ryder’, and were often slapped or grabbed forcefully by the protagonist. They were reduced to nothing but dumb, naïve eye candy for Bond and the spectator.
Throughout Daniel Craig’s tenure, however, this bigoted depiction of female characters has become more subtle. Modern Bond films tend to create a false sense of empowerment for their female figures, making them seem independent when in fact their agency is still limited. For example, Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) is introduced as a field agent in Skyfall (2012) but when she accidentally shoots Bond on a mission, she is suspended from field duty. Despite initially voicing her desire to go back into active duty, she changes her mind after Bond patronisingly informs her that ‘field duty isn’t for everyone’, and becomes a highly-trained adviser by the end of the film.
This change in occupation feels like a subtle indication that women are better suited to being behind a desk. Bond disobeys orders and carries out unsanctioned missions, and yet he is still allowed to keep his position as a 00 agent. But when Moneypenny makes a mistake, she is punished and barred from fieldwork despite wanting to return. If this doesn’t show that there’s a predominantly sexist approach to female characters in this franchise, then I don’t know what does. As Daniel Craig’s time as Bond comes to an end, isn’t it time that Bond went in a new direction?
With the introduction of Nomi, the new 007 agent in No Time To Die, there is hope of not only better representation of women, but also a new perspective on the world of espionage. In reality, there are many female agents in MI6. In 2017, the Secret Service released an advert to recruit female candidates to become MI6 agents. At the ‘Women in IT Awards’ in 2016, British Intelligence Officer Sir Alex Younger revealed that the Bond films do not portray MI6 entirely accurately and that the real ‘Q’ is actually a woman.
But, despite the facts betraying the Bond universe as an outdated fantasy, any change to the traditional characters has always been met with a mixed response. When it was announced that Lashana Lynch would be the new 007, she faced online trolling. Naomi Harris only avoided this backlash because her character was not disclosed to the public until the film had been released in cinemas. But the films’ producers do not appear to be ready to make impactful changes to her character, turning down the idea of a Moneypenny action spin-off in 2015 which would have been directed by Barry Jenkins. Even the rumours of Bond possibly being played by Idris Elba provoked racist responses. Change is not welcome when it comes to the Bond franchise, especially when it's pivotal for women or people of colour.
This begs the question - is it enough to change the existing framework from within? Or should we start again and allow a new character to rise up from the ashes? I think it’s time we got to see the world of espionage from the perspective of a different 00 agent. Create a new character. Give Lashana Lynch her own film. Give audiences something refreshing to watch, something that represents and respects women. Allow new voices to shine, not just on- but off-screen, by giving more female, POC, and LGBTQ+ writers, producers, and directors the chance to tell their own stories.
So, is it time for Bond to die? I think so.
Ruth Holder is an award-winning writer/director from the UK. Film-making has been a passion of hers ever since she watched Guillermo's 'Pacific Rim' in the cinema when she was 13. Since then she's dreamed of seeing her films on the silver screen. If you're also a fan of Pacific Rim, you'd instantly be drift-compatible! Check out her debut film, Lost Identity here.