With Golden Eye, the James Bond franchise had an opportunity to move away from Ian Flemming’s Bond, in that there was no book in the series for this movie to rely on – it was written as a movie itself. If we look at Bond being a (politically) centrist male character, then logically, his ethos should update as his persona moves through time too, should it not?
This 1995 Bond has all the modern conveniences that a 1995 Bond should have, but the franchise has made the choice to maintain his chauvinist attitudes as part of his character rather than indicative of the time, and have chosen to evolve him in every other way but that. And therein lies the flaw with the Bond franchise.
With three very present and relevant female characters, it’s a wonder that this movie still turns out to be par for the Bond franchise course – unsurprisingly anti-feminist through and through. Let’s break down each of these three women and how their characters try – and fail – to move the needle.
The M Decoy
Judy Dench as M seems like it would be a huge step forward for women in the Bond franchise. Although she gets to call Bond a “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur”, it doesn’t come to much – she asserts that his “charms” have still served their purpose with a younger generation which essentially points out that men of a certain ilk can still treat women pretty terribly and get away with it.
Moneypenny seems to draw a hard line with Bond, insisting that emotions be kept out of their work, saying “Avenging Alex Travelyan will not bring him back”. She makes it clear that she’s not afraid to sacrifice him to the cause, ultimately doing her job in the most professional way possible, regardless of how he chooses to do his.
Though she could initially be seen as a feminist role, in that she’s not sexualized and she is asserting herself, we see her as a post-sexual being – the older female. Her gender, age, and power structure in relation to Bond move her into a maternal role, and nothing is done within the film to reframe this narrative and empower the character.
Having Bond’s adversary be female is, I suppose, inherently feminist since we see her as an equal to him throughout the film.
She’s Russian Military trained, and clearly has her own set of tricks up her sleeve. An overt sadist, she crushes [men] to death with her thighs while deriving sexual pleasure though this act. Then there’s her name – Onatopp – which is pointed out by our leading man also, and how can that NOT be sexual?
Technically you could see her existence as a rival and equal to bond as feminist, though she’s employing just about every misogynistic-film-maker trope in the book to take us there – her relatively campy killing methods and naming, her oversexualization and revealing outfits, all keep her right where he (in this case, the male gaze or film audience) want her as part of a Bond series.
With Natalia, we see a third female archetype – the attractive nerd! Under that beige sweater and boring haircut she’s really a bombshell – what a surprise! Faced with constant sexism in the workplace coming from Boris (password: knockers) Natalia seems to have a bond with him that’s truly inexplicable, and tolerates his misogyny.
The alliance between Bond and Simonova is at first rocky – the classic will-they-won’t-they trope, where “love” comes from “hate”. They manage to both prove useful in working their way through challenges they face in the film, Bond ultimately rescuing Natalya (no surprise there either) and make it to Cuba – where things heat up.
No surprise there, ultimately, we all know that Natalya will be next in the long line of intelligent women seduced by Bond.
Wrapping it up
While Golden Eye is the first Bond film made without an Ian Fleming novel, the writers and franchise miss the opportunity to remove Bond’s sexism from his personality and have him “get with the times”.
We see through M, Xenia Onatopp, and Natalya Simonova that while the franchise wants to celebrate multi-faceted and strong women, they want to do so while strictly adhering to anti-feminist tropes from previous Hollywood films and Bonds gone by.
Thus, this film does almost nothing to move the needle for feminism in the Bond franchise.