Backlot Bitch: The Trouble with James Bond and Skyfall
Get the eyerolls out of the way. Whether you think this article is frivolous because you think the iconic British superspy stands for all that is wrong with patriarchy and classism or that he's a classic icon that doesn't need to be criticized, make your peace now. I'm going to bring Skyfall back to earth.
So it's your standard Bond adventure: espionage, treason, bloodshed, exotic locations, writhing female bodies, but continues on this odd attempt to add deapth to Bond's stereotype. Starring Daniel Craig (who I still don't personally buy as the titular leading man), this Sam Mendes–directed work takes us to the dark beginnings of Bond's past. Because Casino Royale didn't already do that? Whatever, turns out James Bond is the British Batman, or perhaps Batman was an American James Bond? Apparently, after Bond's parents died (cause unsaid in movie), he left the lofty Skyfall estate on the Scottish Moors to become the spy we know and love. I can't wait until the British Joker shows up in the next movie.
Mendes lifts several scenes almost entirely from Nolan's Batman trilogy, so much so that my friend and I starting joking about what would happen next (worse, we were sometimes right). The cool iconic gagdets are no longer with us, as new Q tells us that "we don't do that anymore." I noted a lack of explosions (until the end, of course) and good old car chases. Then there was this very strange theme of Bond getting old and how he's still the shit over the youngins at the British secret service. But even then, that wasn't what got my head tilting when these scenes went down.
The second Bond girl we're introduced to is Sévérine, played by Bérénice Marlohe. Of course, she's just as glamorous as Bond (I might've taken some makeup notes), and just as cool and mysterious. But that facade melts when he tells her he detects fear in her. He takes her wrist, spots a tattoo, and informs the audience that she is a sex slave, sold off in her early teens. Her eyes fill with tears, and that's her confirmation. She gives him a challenge to survive the henchmen watching over her, and he obliges, promising her that if she takes him to her boss, he'll free her.
Now here's where it gets creepy (and duh, spoiler-y, so feel free to stop reading): Bond defeats the baddies, and goes to meet Sévérine at her yacht. She believes he didn't make it. Disappointed, she goes to take a shower. Bond waltzes into the shower and passionate kissing commences. Uh, didn't we just establish that she's trying to escape her past as a sex slave? This is problematic: I can't tell if Bond is taking advantage of her situation or he's reaping the rewards of a job well done on the henchmen. Worse, once getting to the bad guy's evil secret island, she's killed off as a show of bad guy's lack of regard for life. Bond reacts with some violence, but it's pretty much curtains for Sévérine. There's no mention of her after, feeding again the series' trope of women as disposable. Like I said: so many problems.
Javier Bardem, for all intents and purposes, is delightful, licking his lips and enjoying the bad-guy schtick better than any recent Bond villain. However, his character has echoes of Hollywood's beloved depraved homosexual trope. He is evil out of revenge, but flirts with Bond and refers to M as his mother. The flirting scene apparently has led to some raised eyebrows and to a few articles either lauding the film for its "gayness" or offering some stock no-homo reassurance.
Homophobia and sexy disposable ladies aside, Skyfall also continues the storied Bond tradition of cultural imperialism. Bond jets across the globe, meeting "exotic" ladies and murderous assassins of every color and creed. Perhaps if the series were more inclusive of other agents of color, this thorny problem wouldn't stick out so much. Q and M, Bond's tech person and boss respectively, have all been played by white actors, and have only recently been essayed by a woman (Dame Judi Dench as M). I find it symbolic that the bad guys are mostly defined as "others" and MI6, with a token exception here or there (in Skyfall, it's Agent Eve, one who roundly screws up within the first few minutes of the movie) is predominately white. It's not inclusive enough to be the one-time sidekick fuck buddy. Britain is quite diverse right now, feel free to reflect that anytime, Mr. Bond.
The issue of a feminist Bond has been hotly contested. At least one book has been published about Bond and feminism, and I'm sure more than a few academic papers have tackled the subject. I'm not fully convinced, and it's possible that Skyfall might set any arguments for Bond as a feminist back. However, I'm pretty sure we can all agree that Adele's theme song for the film is one of the best in series history. So there's the silver lining.
Are you planning to see Skyfall this weekend? If so, where do you fall in the great Bond-as- feminist debate?
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