Ever since it was officially announced that we had seen the last of Daniel Craig as Bond – a piece of information I feel has been deemed ‘breaking news’ at least 10 times over the past couple of years – we’ve seen an incredible amount of A-listers lining up at the door to take on the role. Hiddleston, Elba, Hardy, Cavill, Fassbender, … even (Queen) Gillian Anderson seems to have put her name forward to lead the franchise. Whilst the list still predominantly includes your traditional white-thirty-something-hunk stereotype of Bond, there seems to be a genuine enthusiasm/hope that this may be the time we get to see a different type of Bond. Idris Elba certainly has a lot of backers to become the first black Bond, and – although the likelihood of this ever happening remains tiny – the internet did get excited by the possibility of having Gillian Anderson finally taking James Bond to the modern world the rest of us live in. It is 2016 and diversity has become a top priority in a world where every glimpse of discrimination will see you globally torn to pieces on the internet. And so the excitement is genuine that we may finally be able to rock things up a little so everyone can have a voice on screen – big or small. But whilst it is genuinely encouraging to see people embrace the idea of a black or female Bond, I cannot for one minute get excited about any new Bond or Bond movie.
The last Bond movie I watched was Skyfall. The film was critically acclaimed and even I left the cinema feeling pretty good about how entertained I was for those 140 minutes. But not long after I’d seen the film, I started to feel very weird about how much I’d enjoyed it. I realised that I was going into a Bond film already excusing it for its problems, before I’d even taken my seat into the auditorium. Basically, I would go in knowing that I was not going to agree with how women would be portrayed on screen, or how the villain was once again going to be a foreign guy. But I would just put all of it aside and try to focus on the entertainment, because society tells me Bond movies are amongst the best action movies and I don’t want to miss out on the fun. So I would do all of that and let the action wash over me and manage to get out of the screen thinking a film like Skyfall was very good. And then I wondered: WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?!
I also started paying a lot more attention to conversations about James Bond movies and realised I wasn’t the only person putting all of the backward ideology aside to somehow find greatness in something that is quite frankly appalling when you stop to look at it closely – most of my friends were too. “Obviously the whole bullshit scene where that woman gets shot and he says ‘what a waste of good whisky’ is awful, but generally speaking, it’s one of the best Bonds of recent years.” << That was the general feeling. I have no way to quantify how many times a sentence similar to that one was said after the release of Skyfall, but I’m pretty confident it wasn’t just a phenomenon experienced within my personal circle of friends. Bond is a big deal. It’s one of the biggest, most prolific and longest-running cinematic franchises out there. I started sharing my change of heart and it wasn’t met with much understanding or enthusiasm. The generic answer would be something along the lines of: “They’re Bond movies. You can’t take them very seriously. We all know what kind of movies they are.” I started to question myself. Was I just being a party-pooper? Was I becoming one of those people who just had to hate the one thing everyone was agreeing was fantastic? Was it really that big a deal? After all, I do also go into all Tarantino movies knowing I’m going to have an issue with the overuse of the N word. What was the difference? I pondered the question for some time, until it hit me. There is a huge difference between a Bond movie and a Tarantino movie: the Bond franchise is classed as family entertainment. And *that* is the issue, especially for a franchise where the main protagonist is deemed a sort of role model for young men.
My main issue with the James Bond franchise lies in how subtle the problematic scenes can be. To take Skyfall as an example, let’s have a look at the scene where Bond meets Severine in her shower. Now, it might not look like much on the surface but in reality James Bond essentially broke into Severine’s boat and snuck up on her in the shower in what I presume is meant to be as much of a super hot sex scene you can get in a PG13/12(A)-rated movie. To each their own fantasies and desires – for some of us that scene was super hot and something we’d like to experience, for some of us, it really wasn’t okay and you’d better not get any ideas. But as a 13-year-old watching that scene, the only real message is that this is absolutely acceptable behaviour and there is nothing wrong in what you’ve just seen. After all, they’re both adults and they did seem to have a thing going on earlier on, right? I don’t remember her inviting him to spend some time on her boat and unexpectedly surprise her in the shower – but she didn’t say no, so that must mean yes. Well, it doesn’t, and whilst consent isn’t a thing Bond movies seem to have time for, the impact of such a small omission could be greater than you think. In the head of someone on the verge of sexual discovery, you may feel ‘no’ isn’t an option to a similar situation; or from the other side, you may not understand why someone might say ‘no’ to such an erotic honour. It essentially sets up a norm that is actually quite extraordinary. Bond movies are packed with those small moments that may look inoffensive on the surface but are actually hugely problematic. Now, problematic sex scenes happen all the time on screen, why is this a big deal? Well, all problematic sex scenes are a big deal, but in the case of James Bond, he truly *is* meant to be a role model of sort. He is handsome, he gets all the girls, he plays with super fun gadgets, he drives expensive cars, and well, he is a fucking spy – I mean, what else do you need in life? It’s been 54 years that millions of us rush to the cinema to watch him live the awesome life we can only fantasise about; it’s no wonder so many A-list actors are dying to play the part. He is like an international treasure and I suppose, that’s why so many of us are so forgiving of his backward ways. But when the franchise hit the screens for the first time 54 years ago, those ways may not have seemed so backward. It was a different time. People cared a lot less (if at all) about representation on screen. Women certainly had a very specific slot waiting for them on the big screen. But as society evolved, Bond didn’t, and the greatest achievement the franchise accomplished over 54 years of existence is making its audience accept the fact that James Bond can in fact be blond. So excuse me if I can’t get excited about the prospect of any changes to the franchise.
But Bond is changing, I hear you cry, look how much depth Daniel Craig has brought to the character, and he really cared about Eva Green in that one movie, And Judi Dench as M, and Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl. Well, yes, but all of those points are invalid. Being moody and a bit sad doesn’t qualify as depth, Eva Green died, Judi Dench died and was replaced by a guy, and have you seen what Monica Bellucci looks like – she is literally a goddess?! It might look like big changes on the surface but nothing is moving underneath. To have James Bond care for a woman for the entire duration of one movie, and to cast a woman his age as a potential love interest isn’t enough to make the Bond franchise free of misogyny or sexism, leave alone a feminist example. And don’t get me started on how many of Bond’s enemies are foreign. So whilst I would love to see a black actor or a woman lead a great action franchise, and I would also love to see women direct so many more huge blockbuster movies, I can’t see how one change can affect the Bond franchise in such depth that I can go into a movie without leaving my principles and values behind. And to be quite frank, I’m getting sadder and sadder at the number of actors I genuinely love throwing themselves into the pool to pick up the role. Why would anyone be willing to portray such an outdated protagonist is beyond me? You (we) all deserve way better than James Bond in life.
There was outrage when Craig got on board and he was blond and it literally took people 10 years to accept it. Can you imagine how long it will take to adjust anything else in the franchise if they cast a non-stereotypical Bond or hire a woman to direct the film? Centuries probably. So it will look different on the surface for years but still be hugely dodgy underneath. But perhaps Bond shouldn’t change. Perhaps the essence of Bond is that he was from another time. Perhaps he was the hero of a specific generation. Perhaps it’s just time we move on and find ourselves another badass, fluid role model we can all look up to.