Casino Royale is not your father’s Bond movie. Oh, no. First of all —
Daniel. Craig. Naked. Oh, yes.
An unnamed source claims it was done to win over the female audience. Does this… could it actually mean someone has realized we’ll go to see movies that give us what we want? In droves? And bring friends?
I’m hopeful. Even though Craig has said he wants to keep his clothes on in the next movie, I still plan to go to a theater and see it. I haven’t been inside a theater since 2003, folks (something to do with assholes and cell phones). Daniel Craig’s body may be a beautiful inducement to women viewers, but he’s once you get to know the rest of him you won’t care what he’s wearing. His Bond is a fascinating blend of repulsive and sympathetic. But I also adore Roger Moore and his wry wit, yet I never made it all the way through any of his Bond movies before changing the channel. What’s different about this one?
Some spoilers will follow beneath the MORE cut.
It’s all about motives. Explain them, and you can write almost any sort of character believably. Ignore them, and we have to assume you assumed their behavior was just standard for their demographic.
For the old Bonds to make sense, you had to accept two precepts: that Bond was a sexist pig, and most women were just so wowwed by him despite this that they couldn’t wait to sleep with him. Could it be we’ve actually made enough progress that neither of these precepts work anymore, even on a pure wanking fantasy level?
Craig’s Bond isn’t sexist, per se. For example, he doesn’t doubt the capabilities of his female colleagues (his superior, M, played by Judi Dench and Vesper, played by Eva Green). He just isn’t willing to get emotionally involved with a woman. While the old Bond was an extension of a misogynistic culture, the new one is a guy making conscious choices about how he relates to women – choices for which he alone is responsible. This movie is set in 2006 with a young Bond just beginning his career as a “double-0” agent, eliminating the flimsy excuse of pre-feminism ignorance.
The revised “Bond Girl” also has motives of her own. Instead of being swept mindlessly off her feet by James because he’s just that awesome, the wife of a bad guy expresses her concern that he’s only sleeping with her to get to her husband. But because she’s having fun and wants to hurt her husband, she doesn’t mind. That is, until she tells James where her husband is and it becomes painfully obvious he’s just looking for a way to cut and run after the bad guy. She spares him the trouble by quietly walking out on him while he’s ordering room service.
Vesper is an agent from the British treasury with whom James falls madly in love despite himself. This is a reasonably well-explored emotional plot, and while one might assume the filmmakers included it “for the chicks, because they like mushy stuff”, it’s actually from the original novel*, in which James is planning to marry her just before she kills herself and he learns she was really a Russian double agent. In the movie, she’s a British treasury agent – not a spy – who’s extorted into helping the bad guys (terrorists, not Russians) because they’re holding her boyfriend. It’s a little complicated, but to summarize: she resists her growing attraction to James until she realizes that her boyfriend’s life is forfeit anyway (at which point she makes another deal with another set of bad guys to save James’ life and her own). Then she gives into her feelings for him and he quits MI6 to go sailing for a month with her. Eventually the bad guys catch up, and James discovers her betrayal.
Even knowing she’s betrayed him and Britain, James goes to great lengths to save her life. When he realizes he’s failed, he spends time he doesn’t have cradling her body while the last of the bad guys gets away. Afterwards he coldly reports the incident over a cell phone to M, uttering the closing line of the novel: “The bitch is dead.” M points out to him that Vesper made a deal to save his life and had to know it would eventually cost her her own. He doesn’t reply, but we see his subtle physical reactions. This scene cements the disparity between his true feelings and what he lets the world see. If the filmmakers use it as carte blanche to return to the old Bond in sequels, expecting the audience to fanwank that he’s just being an asshole because he’s been hurt, poor dear, I’ll be very put out. But they could just as easily use little reminders of it to paint a flawed hero.
Flawed hero? James Bond? Hell, I might even become a fan. And I can’t tell you how surreal it is just to type those words. If we’ve actually come far enough that one of the most over the top male fantasy characters of all time has to be given substance to fit into a world where sexism is a choice rather than a default and the women who choose to be with him have their own reasons for doing so, then maybe we really have made some progress the anti-feminist backlash of the 90’s can’t undermine.
*I haven’t read the original novel: all my comments on its content are surmised from remarks by people ’round the web who have read it. I believe I’m representing it accurately, but feel free to offer corrections or clarifications if you know better.