Bond films don’t just fail the Bechdel test, they rip it up, stuff it into a sack and bury it in your back garden. The key to enjoying a James Bond film, I think, is to have very low expectations, take delight in the complete lack of logic and hope that the misogyny has been dialed down to negligible.
I used to watch Bond films with my Dad, other than sci-fi, it was the one genre we both enjoyed. Highlights were trying to guess who was singing the theme song, seeing if the opening scene was suitably spectacular and waiting for the inevitable double entendre. Sean Connery was the only Bond I really liked. I was a bit fond of Timothy Dalton but by then the franchise seemed to have lost its way, forgettable plots, forgettable names.
It all seemed to change with Casino Royale in 2006. Daniel Craig was a deliciously masculine Bond and the story line seemed to indicate (never before shown) depth to his character and (surprisingly) only one sexual conquest. At last a Bond who wasn’t just a misogynist cliché. Or so it seemed. Quantum of Solace was fairly forgettable, Skyfall seemed to drag. Having a female M seemed like progress although, like all other women in Bond films, she seemed to be there just to show us what a great guy Bond is. By Skyfall, Bond was back to his cheesy one-dimensional self.
So to Spectre. I expected very little. I was not disappointed. After listening to (spoilers) Sam Smith sing the opening song to sinister-looking octopuses writhing with scantily-clad women, the opening scene was a cracker. Set in Mexico during the Day of the Dead, it had all the detail and spectacle we hope for and set the scene for the totally illogical but strangely satisfying superhuman abilities of Bond. If you accept the Bond films as a genre all of their own, I think it’s possible to go along for the ride. I enjoyed the action scenes, however implausible (high-speed car chase to catch up to a very slow moving barge) and I quite liked the main love interest, Dr Madeleine Swann (at least there were no discernible puns with her name, as with Pussy Galore, Octopussy, Dr Holly Goodhead, Honey Ryder and all the others). Swann, played by Léa Seydoux was clever, career-driven and unimpressed by Bond – for a good part of the movie at least.
His other sexual conquest, though, with a character played by Monica Bellucci, was a good example of a sensibility that Bond films cling to that I think, I hope, is becoming unacceptable. As I was watching it, I felt it verged on sexual assault, only justified by the myth of Bond’s overwhelming sexual charisma. How is this different to every other guy who forces himself on a woman, believing somehow that it’s ‘what she wants’ or ‘what she needs’? Not cool. No matter how insouciant Bond is, he’s just another dick in a suit.
Bechdel test – fail