Late last week the producers of the Bond blockbusters officially announced the title (Spectre) and cast of the 24th installment of the franchise, including the return of Daniel Craig as Bond, James Bond. But all the buzz about the announcement has been centered not on Bond himself, but on the newest – or rather, the oldest – Bond girl.
Fifty-year-old Italian actress Monica Bellucci has just made history as the oldest Bond girl in 50 years of Bond movies. This smashes the record held by Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman, who was 39 when she played Pussy Galore back in 1964. The gorgeous model-turned-actress Bellucci is older than even Bond himself – Craig is 46 – which has happened on only a couple of previous occasions through the decades. The Washington Post, which actually charted the ages of the Bonds and their women throughout the franchise’s history, proclaimed that “James Bond finally falls for a woman his own age.”
Bellucci has had a brush with Bond girlhood before: she nearly got the role in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies that ultimately went to Teri Hatcher. At the time, she was already a star in Europe but it was before her leading role in Malena, which brought her greater attention in America. She went on to appear in Hollywood films like Tears of the Sun opposite Bruce Willis, the Matrix films, and Passion of the Christ, in addition to a boatload of productions in Europe, where the glamorous Bellucci is a household name.
Not everyone in the media applauded the inspired and well-deserved casting of Bellucci. In the dismissively-titled “‘Spectre’ Casts 50-Year-Old Bond Girl For 007 to Do Sex To,” The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman complained that “the Bond series still has a long ways to go if it wants a cookie for being feminist-friendly.”
But why should Bond be feminist-friendly? That’s not his style. Audiences for five decades have enjoyed his unapologetically masculine swagger, wry quips, stylish menswear, and sleek sports cars. As Monica Bellucci said: “James Bond is our fantasy – the ideal man. The man is a protector, he is dangerous, mysterious and sexy, and a perfect English gentleman” – i.e., not feminist-friendly.
As for the women: yes, they’re archaically called Bond “girls” but there isn’t a single actress in Hollywood who wouldn’t leap at the opportunity to play one. And why wouldn’t they? Bond girls are strong, fun, independent characters with professions that have included spy, assassin, nuclear scientist, and oil heiress. They kick ass and look sexy doing it. Sometimes they kick even Bond’s ass. Sometimes they’re deliciously evil, sometimes good, and Bond doesn’t always have sex with them – like Olga Kurylenko, Craig’s Quantum of Solace costar.
Sure, sometimes (mostly in the earlier films) they’re sexual diversions, but sometimes Bond actually falls in love with them, like Eva Green in Casino Royale. He even resigned from the Service in order to build a future with Green’s character – until she betrayed him and died, leaving him emotionally scarred for the next two films. Would it have been more feminist-friendly had he married her and they lived happily ever after? Considering how radical feminists feel about heterosexual marriage, probably not. Would audiences have embraced a softer, domesticated, monogamous Bond? Almost certainly not. So the love interest must die so that the iconic Bond we know and love can go on.
Zimmerman’s kneejerk condemnation of the films for their perceived sexism comes apart in the details. For example, she mentions that Naomie Harris’ character in Skyfall is demoted from field agent to Bond’s “devoted” secretary – “not exactly a Lean In-approved take on the modern corporate world.” But Harris’ character wasn’t demoted – she had the full confidence of her superiors but took herself out of the field because she decided being a field agent wasn’t for her. And she didn’t become Bond’s “glorified secretary-cum-booty call” – she is the secretary for M, the head of the British Secret Service and Bond’s boss (who for seven films was played by Dame Judi Dench – a feminist-friendly aspect that Zimmerman neglected to consider).
By the way, Naomie Harris is 38, nearly breaking Honor Blackman’s record herself. So at an age at which most actresses are panicking about narrowing opportunities for roles, Bond “girls” can still be sexy, smart, stylish, and lethal when they need to be. What woman doesn’t aspire to that?
James Bond films are more successful than ever at 50 years old because they’re sexy, fun, action-packed, over-the-top escapism starring a man’s man who has been one of the world’s favorite fictional characters since Ian Fleming’s novels first appeared in the ‘50s. They’re not meant to be taken too seriously – but at the same time, they’re more feminist-forward than the killjoys give them credit for.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 12/11/14)