With the classic character, James Bond, a few things instantly come to mind: a vodka martini, shaken not stirred; a stylish Aston Martin; a Walther PPK and associated slew of gadgets; the long-suffering and powerful M; and a string of beautiful “Bond Girls” who never make it to a second film and typically fall into bed with the superspy within a few scenes of meeting him. Bond has endured generations and lasted through a series of different writers and actors due to the specificity of his character. Much of this identity stems from Bond’s heightened masculinity.
However, the upcoming outing of Bond 25, set to be Daniel Craig’s last in the role, has decided to take a vastly different approach to the time-tested and iconic character, hiring Phoebe Waller-Bridge to modernize the script for the hypersensitive, divisive culture of 2019. The iconic and evocative phrase “Bond Girl” has allegedly been banned from set. The love interest from the previous film, played forgettably by Lea Seydoux, will return as Bond’s serious girlfriend.
After two excellent Bond films in a row written by John Logan and directed by Sam Mendes, the phenomenal “Skyfall” and the flawed but enjoyable “Spectre,” the reins are being handed to Cary Fukunaga, who is best known for directing “Beasts of No Nation” (starring my number one pick to replace Craig as Bond, Idris Elba), and “Jane Eyre” (starring my number two pick, Michael Fassbender).
The film is set to follow Bond after he retires from MI-6 after the events of Spectre, when he is coaxed out of retirement to work with the new 007, played by Captain Marvel’s Lashana Lynch. While Lynch’s character is not taking on the Bond mantle yet, merely his code number, and Craig will still be the film’s star, I share many fans’ worries that Lynch’s casting is paving the way for a lefty’s dream and a Bond fan’s nightmare: a female-helmed James Bond. This choice is clearly a studio’s blatant attempts at virtue-signaling to score cheap points in a Me Too era, but will ultimately fall flat under the weight of a classic character.
Bond is an incredibly well-written, specifically developed character, both in Ian Fleming’s novel series and the adaptations. His masculinity, and how it affects how he relates to the world and to women, is a major aspect of the persona. By making the character female, filmmakers would be cynically attempting to capitalize on the name recognition of the cultural icon, without actually attempting to continue the characters’ story.
Give Women Spies Their Own Characters
Rather than casting the next Bond as a woman, studios should look into writing interesting spy films centered on female characters. 2017’s criminally underrated “Atomic Blonde” is an ideal example of what I’m suggesting. Comparisons between Charlize Theron’s eponymous spy and 007 are clear and logical, and for good reason. Theron captures the suave, charming, hard-drinking, angst-ridden aspect of Craig’s Bond, but with one crucial difference.
In the same way as Bond being defined at least partly by his masculinity, Theron’s character’s relationship to her femininity plays a realistic role in her arc. Rather than transforming Bond beyond recognition, filmmakers should craft new and interesting stories about women spies. I and many other fans of the genre would welcome such an addition to the spy canon.
The backlash against the idea of a female James Bond has nothing to do with sexism. If this was some generic spy being genderbent, the outrage and frustration would be relegated to a tiny corner of the internet. Rather, the character of James Bond occupies a special place in the hearts of many film fans, both men and women. We fans only want to see the character presented in a way that feels organic and genuine to the Bond we’ve spent generations following.
Are James Bond Films Actually Sexist, Though?
Along with the addition of a female 007, Bond 25 is setting out to combat some of the alleged sexism found in the films. While the eponymous character’s womanizing tendencies proves that Bond does not have great respect for the overwhelming number of women who find themselves in his bed, the same cannot be said for the narrative. Some Bond girls are one-dimensional sex objects purely included in the films to be beautiful and flirt with Bond, while others are interesting characters on their own right: messy, virtuous, evil, conniving, and complex.
Likewise, throughout the Craig era, the most powerful character in the series was a woman. Dame Judi Dench redefined the role of M when she took on the mantle of the head of MI-6 in “Goldeneye,” and has become the definitive M for most viewers. Her ability to command the respect of the viewers and Bond is unimpeachable; her departure in “Skyfall” was devastating, and treated as such.
A womanizing protagonist does not inherently make a film sexist, but provides the main character with flaws and complications that make the viewing experience richer for audiences. If all protagonists had to be morally unambiguous saints, then so many of the classic heroes would never exist.
Bond is cool, charming, and a brilliant spy, but he is never presented as perfect. In fact, his flaws are highlighted time and time again, especially in the Craig films. It is Bond’s coolness that excites viewers, but his failings and humanity that makes us care. Ridding Bond of his challenging relationships with the women in his life robs the character of the reason why we should empathize with him. Likewise, putting the series into the hands of a woman would rob Bond of these complications.
Is There Any Hope?
Ultimately, there is no guarantee that Lynch’s new 007 character will take over the film series upon Craig’s departure after Bond 25. If Lynch is allowed to portray a wholly distinct spy, in the vein of 006 or Moneypenny in “Skyfall,” then any worries are all for naught, and we can still retain hope of Elba stepping into the role.
We can only wait and hope that the studios will let Bond be Bond, and continue to populate his world with a fascinating cast of rich, complex men and women. And that writers will write new great spy franchises led by women and by men, where the characters’ masculinities and femininities are integral or incidental to their characters, and most importantly, that tell stories that move, engage, and entertain for generations the way James Bond has for me and for countless others.