This hit the screens a couple of weeks ago in Britain, and I understand it just has just come out in the US. It has the distinction of being the first James Bond film I was actually excited to see (I was interested in seeing Casino Royale because I knew it was a reboot and they planned several changes in tone; but it wasn’t until after, when I knew what they had done with it that real excitement could kick in). So what did I think?
Daniel Craig and his body look much as he did in Casino Royale; I presume most readers will consider that good news :). The film is a direct sequel to CR and it looks like the next will be a direct sequel to this (not a feminist issue, but I like that the organisation presented in CR is taking several films to deal with).
M: Judy Dench is as good as ever. M is smart, seeing through some bullshit from the CIA purely on the basis of who told it to her, and what it implies that they’re the one who did. She sees through Bond’s morass of emotions surrounding Vesper’s betrayal and death (and he admits that she was right), but nonetheless can tell the difference between his bad conclusions and his good ones. You can see why she’s the boss. She does get one terribly rattled moment, but it’s in the wake of something that would rattle anyone. In short, there’s nothing she says or does that I wouldn’t find credible if a man was saying or doing it.
Vesper: Vesper has a big presence in the film; much of Bond’s internal journey is through the turmoil of grief, betrayal, hatred, and guilt he feels. The boyfriend mentioned in Casino Royale come up here as well – and it’s worth noting that “endangered loved one of a similar age” is rarely employed as a motive for a woman to commit a betrayal (it’s usually kids) – there’s more to this at the end of the post, but it’s a spoiler. Anyway Vesper is neither shallow not disposable.
Camille: Camille is on a similar grief/vengeance kick to Bond; they are quite similar people in a lot of ways. They also have similar capabilities, though she’s put into a distinctly secondary tier compared to Bond (which might deserve to go in the Ominous category). But they get parallel fights at the end, each against the adversary who means more to them. And they don’t shag, which is cool. They do share one intense kiss, which neither seems to want to push any further (possibly because it would have meant something).
The guy that Camille wants to kill is a mass murderer. They also make him a mass rapist, for no particular reason but to underscore what a bad man he is. But what it also does is add a sexualised quality to his climactic fight with Camille, which I would have preferred to be a straight combat.
The opening credits have the abstractly rendered women creeping in again, which I could stand to do without. They centred on long images of Bond though, and the women formed out of sandscapes, giving it a kind of navigational look – which certainly fit Bond’s inner journey at the time. So maybe it’s a one off. Hope so.
There’s an MI6 woman called Fields who Bond ends up sleeping with. On the plus side, it’s not given much screen time, and it seems as much a decision on her part as his – she ends up dead, possibly to get to him, and also possibly found as a result of his wanting to stay somewhere higher profile than she did – M does call him on his casual charm having lasting consequences for the women he uses it on, and he does seem to feel some guilt. The reason I find it ominous is that apparently her first name is Strawberry (though I don’t remember hearing it used in the film; she introduces herself as Fields). But weirdly and innuendily-named women are something I could certainly do without seeing come back.
In conclusion, then, it carried on most of the positive changes from Casino Royale (including the ones that have nothing to do with gender), but with some warning signs that they might start listening to people who say it’s not real Bond without the shallow women and misogyny. I hope they don’t. A Bond who pursues shallow interactions – not because he looks down on women, but because he avoids any emotional depth, for both good and bad reasons – is much more interesting than the philanderer of early incarnations. And women with their own goals and personalities – and duties and attachments – are certainly more interesting.
*****SPOILER WARNING : Vesper’s boyfriend turns out to be a bad guy who seduces women with access to sensitive information, and is then “held hostage” in order to extort it from them. A seducer is a common enough trope (though it’s seen differently depending on which side of the equation the woman is, and thus how she needs to be disdained – either as manipulator or emotionally led). But in this case, the boyfriend is definitely painted as the bad guy, and Bond isn’t hypocritical enough to harp on Vesper’s emotions when his have been so turbulent. And I have to say, pretending to be endangered for the purpose of extortion is a very female stereotype, and it’s interesting to see a man do it. *****