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You've come a long way, Bond babes. Or have you?

Categories: Movies

Marlohe Daniel Craig. left, and new Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe star in Skyfall. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions)

Whenever a new Bond movie comes out, the discussion inevitably arises about how much the franchise has done to update the image of those desired but hotly debated Bond Girls.

No doubt about it, the new Bond (particularly Bond of the Daniel Craig era) is more of a modern man when it comes to dealing with the fair sex. Most point to Dame Judy Dench's indomitable M — the one constant authority in Bond's life — as proof that even behind this most macho of men, there is a very powerful woman.

Also, with this year's 50th anniversary of Bond, it's an opportune time to assess just what all those sexy, lethal Amazons have done to the self-image of generations of women who grew up watching these films. And a lot of it is really, really good!

M Judi Dench as M is the ultimate authority figure. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions)

Author Deborah Lipp made this video essay for IndieWire, describing how all those gun-toting, helicopter-flying Bond women made her a feminist. Lipp says Bond Girls gave an inspiring image of an active, adventurous femininity, in contrast to the submissive housewives that dotted television screens of the 1960s.

And even feminist Camille Paglia recently came out as a fan of Bond women; in particular, their sexual self-expression, on par with 007's legendary mojo.

But while Bond ladies have come a long way, they still have a long way to go. Here's where there might be room for improvement:

1: They still die horrible deaths

The Bond Girl often brought up as the example of 007 reboot's more egalitarian sexual politics is Casino Royale's Vesper Lynd. She is, after all, the only woman Bond ever truly loved — he almost "quit the biz" for her, only to learn that she betrayed him and had an agenda of her own.

Vesper Lynd literally sizes up Bond, reading his Omega watch and suit and defensive smirk like tea leaves. She says, "You see women as disposable pleasures rather than a meaningful pursuit."

But then she dies. Horribly. in an act of self-sacrifice born out of remorse of betraying Bond, drowning in a locked cage at the bottom of the sea. And she's not alone.

Goldfinger Jill Masterson's horrible death in Goldfinger is recreated in exhibit marking 50 years of Bond. (Getty Images)

The road to being Bond is still strewn with bodies of beauties — their deaths more lurid and explicitly shown than in most other franchisees of that level of popularity. Solange Dimitrios is said to have been "tortured." Quantum of Solace's Strawberry Fields, drowned in oil. (I know this was supposed to be a nod to the "suffocating from being covered in gold paint" death of Jill Masterson in Goldfinger, but there's something about death scene homages that I'm not getting. Maybe it's just me)

Of course, a lot of these deaths adhere to Ian Fleming's original novels, but if the filmmakers feel that it's OK to take a creative risk of, say, making M female, why would it not be OK to make these deaths less gruesome or at least show them in a less fetishistic way?

2: Batman Did Better

Of course, the 007 franchise is a fantasy. But on the scale of fantasy-to-reality, Batman makes Bond look as regular as Jerry Seinfeld. In other words, Bond purports to represent a world still infinitely more realistic than that of comic books: After all, MI5 is a real intelligence agency.

Catwoman Anne Hathaway as Catwoman is absolutely Batman's equal. (Warner Bros. Pictures/Associated Press)

And yet, Chris Nolan's Batman films have presented a more evolved image of women than the recent Bond films.

(warning: contains spoilers)

Most notably, in The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway's Cat Woman is absolutely Batman's equal, bringing him back to life, then to the edge of death, then rescuing him once again.

Even the film's arch-villain, the face manoeuvring the brutish marionette that is Bain, is that of Miranda Tate, aka Marion Cottilard. Could you imagine that happening in a 007 film?

3. Bond girls are rarely stars

Eva Green, Olga Kyrilenko, Bérénice Marlohe, Naomie Harris: common trait? Next to zero name-recognition at the time of release of the movie and, for many of these ladies, since (although I really do have high hopes for Naomie Harris).

Because there's only room for one star in Bond films, and it's not going to be a Bond leading lady, no matter how captivating or talented the actress. There's nothing wrong with this, except, again, just about all other franchises have shown enough confidence in their audience — and their leading men! — to star opposite an actress who is a star in her own right. Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man is man enough to handle Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Pots and Scarlett Johanssen's Black Widow.

Chris Nolan's Batman films have had a bevvy of critically acclaimed actresses, Oscar nominees or winners — from Hathaway and Cotillard to Maggie Gyllenhaal's Rachel Dawes.

Yes, yes, they had Halle Berry in Die Another Day in 2002, the same year Berry became the first African- American woman to win a best actress Oscar for Monster's Ball. But did Die Another Day really utilize Berry's fine acting chops, or focus solely on her, um, other notable assets?

The interesting side note to all this is that the ultimate boss of the Bond franchise is, of course a woman, the awesomely named Barbara Broccoli (of course her name would be an assonance!). And with the changes she's made to the franchise in recent years, from instating blonde, brooding Bond in the person of Daniel Craig — a move that initially caused fan uproar but has proven to be an excellent choice in the long run — could some of these other changes be far behind?

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