The New Bond

[WARNING: Spoilers from the new Bond flick linger herein.]

Like any good Brit, Bond fandom is in Mr. Shakes’ blood; he’s read the books and seen all the films—and like any good Scot, he regards Sean Connery as the Best Bond in the History of the Universe. I’d never seen a Bond film until I met Mr. Shakes, and when we went to see Casino Royale this weekend, it was the first time I’d ever seen one on the big screen. And, quite honestly, I went along because Mr. Shakes loves the films, not because I had any particular yen to see it myself. It’s not because I don’t like the genre; I could watch the Bourne movies a thousand times and never tire of them. It’s just that the Bond franchise didn’t quite jive with my, um, aesthetic.

Part of it, naturally, was being a crabby old stick in the mud who had no joy for one of the most celebrated Western male icons using scantily clad women like disposable toys, but that wasn’t the only reason I was never especially enamored with Bond, James Bond. By late in the series, circa Brosnan, the unveiling of super-gadgets and elaborate hi-tech Houdinism was so hackneyed it was turning Bond into a satire of his former self. This is James Bond. This is James Bond on digital steroids. All pretense of captivating plot (and, largely, good acting) were left by the wayside in favor of the thinnest of connective tissues holding together one explosion, one daring and death-defying getaway, and the next. If you’re going to relegate a recognizable and lit-based character to the action equivalent of a porno, you ought to at least have the best special effects in the biz—and they didn’t.

So I was glad that reviews of Casino Royale were announcing a New Bond, back to the Old Bond, or a Bond reimagined, depending on one’s perspective and familiarity with the books, but in any case celebrating a relief from Bond’s distracting dependence on his ubiquitous gadgetry. But few of them saw fit to mention that what was arguably the most misogynist mainstream film franchise in history had exiled its sexism, too.

When we watched Dr. No again recently, between Bond referring to Moneypenny as “government property” and reacting to the perpetually half-naked Honey Ryder’s claim that she did in her rapist with a black widow spider by telling her, “Well, it wouldn't do to make a habit of it”—this, from a character who regularly kills men for less—I was reminded how big a role sexism played in the series right from its start. Over the years the Bond girls—Honey Ryder, Pussy Galore, Kissy Suzuki, Plenty O’Toole, Holly Goodhead, Penelope Smallbone, Xenia Onatopp, ho ho ho—moved from being nearly exclusively damsels in distress or wicked sexpots to occasionally being closer to his equal and even sometimes assisting him (and the “Bond girl groups” that served as background eye candy were mostly cast aside after The Living Daylights while Dame Judy Dench became M). But there were never many of them who escaped the fate of being one of Bond’s fuck trophies.

In Dr. No, there is the requisite bombshell for whom Bond has no use but the extraction of information. Once that mission has been accomplished, he first takes her to bed before he calls the cops to come haul her away. No need to pass up a good piece of tail. In Casino Royale, Bond uses the babe for intelligence-gathering, but not to get his rocks off. He makes her his source, but not his whore.

Of those reviewers making mention of Bond’s newfound respect for women, they mostly cite his expression of those three little words: “I love you.” But any dipshit can say “I love you”—respecting women has never been a prerequisite for that; hell, there are plenty of women and men saying it to other men who have said it without having any respect for the person to whom they were saying it, too. What they’re missing is the subtle commentary in scenes like the one in which Bond delivers to Vesper a sexy dress she’s meant to wear to distract his opposition in a card game, only to find she has delivered to him a tailored jacket he’s meant to wear to fit in at the table. And after making her point that she doesn’t cede the upper hand to anyone, Vesper promptly turns Bond’s request to use her feminine wiles on its head—by walking into the room wearing that dress directly in front of him, instead of his competitors. He admonishes her that she was supposed to distract the other fellows, not him. “Was I?” she asks coyly, making those words for all the world sound like the coolest “Fuck you” ever uttered.

By the time Bond tells her he loves her, we actually believe it, because he’s finally been given a woman who’s worth loving. And so have we.

What’s particularly worth noting about the new Bond is that he’s still smoking hot, cool under pressure, hard as nails, the smartest, wittiest guy in the room. In losing his toys—of both the electronic and flesh-based sort—he hasn’t lost any of the things that really make him Bond. Imagine that.

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