Skyfall = Skyfail for Women

Last week, I finally got a chance to go see Skyfall. I enjoyed about 99% of the film. Daniel Craig made for a dark and delicious Bond, Dame Judi Dench was in fine form as M, and Javier Bardem stole the show as a villain so twisted you might as well have slapped some white paint on his face and called him the Joker. The script was also well done, and I felt the story more than made up for the sacrifice-plot-for-action insanity that was Quantum of Solace.

But for me, all that wonderful acting, that beautiful storytelling, got mucked up by the last five minutes of the film.

Okay, that last phrase should have clued y’all in that I’m about to discuss the end of movie in this post. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want me to spoil it for you, DON’T CLICK the “Read More” button or read past this paragraph. You’ve been duly notified.

Let’s get one thing clear, my feminist hackles aren’t raised by the fact because M died and was replaced with a man. Judi Dench won’t be around forever to play the roll, and I doubt there is another actress out there right now who could truly succeed her. Her death was a necessary development in the evolution of the Bond universe.

What irked me about the last scene was that it felt like I was watching what little progress there has been portraying women in Bond films as something more than walking, talking sex toys unravel in front of my eyes.

In the last scene, it is revealed to us that Eve, a former field agent who does a pretty good job kicking ass in the first arc of the film, is the new Moneypenny. It should not go unnoticed that this is the first time Moneypenny has been portrayed as an African British woman, and I think that’s a fantastic development.

But…

The film ends with her trading in her gun for a letter opener as she takes up her traditional post as M’s sultry secretary. As required by any woman who plays Moneypenny, she flirts with Bond then sends him in to the inner sanctum to see M. And I could not help feeling that the last subliminal message of the film, after many years of Judi Dench breaking barriers in her portrayal of M, was:

Finally, the women are back where they belong.

There are people who disagree with me about the trajectory of women in Bond films. They make good points, and perhaps my irritation is a little premature. For all I know, the new Moneypenny will have a more active role when the bullets start flying in future Bond films.

Still, I can’t help feeling now that with Judi Dench’s departure, a door with a retina scan lock has been shut on the possibility of having another woman appear in a Bond film who can be respected without having to constantly lust after 007.

As I said above, replacing Judi Dench with another actress wouldn’t have worked well. So where could the producers possibly have fit another whip-smart woman into the Bond universe?

They should have cast a female Q.

I feel the entire introductory exchange between Q and Bond in the art museum would have worked just as well if Q had been a young, scrawny geek girl, and all of the subsequent scenes Q appeared in would have worked too.

Despite some major fails to recruit more women in science, I feel that shows like CSI and NCIS have helped people become more comfortable with the idea of women as scientists. And having a female Q would have provided an opportunity for young women to aspire to become that lady who builds Bond’s gadgets rather than one of the ladies who provide witty banter before dragging him to bed.

(Although I must note that there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to screw a gorgeous man. Plus, I think a female Q wouldn’t say no if Bond invited her to take the backseat of his latest souped-up Aston Martin for a test drive, ultimately reinforcing the admirable notion that smart IS sexy.)

Alas, a producer’s goal isn’t to create role models for young people. Their goal is to make money. And the Bond producers know their audience well. Any group of fans that gets riled up by the fact that Bond was filmed drinking a beer rather than a martini is likely to get just as steamed about casting a woman in the role of Q. These producers make their living catering to male fantasies, and their reluctance to make any changes that would form cracks in the dreams of those men is (somewhat) understandable.

Still, Judi Dench’s reign as M has demonstrated that daring to cast women in traditionally male roles hasn’t impacted the bottom line for Bond films. If anything, Dench’s presence strengthened the franchise.

I feel that the producers missed a golden opportunity. But there is still hope that the IQs of women in Bond films will continue to rise. Ever since Goldeneye, the women in Bond films have been more complex creatures than the ones who flocked around Sean Connery back in the day. To me, the end of Skyfall undid some of the progress, and I hope future Bond films don’t continue to reverse that trend.

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