“You see, I have a gift. An instinct for sensing people’s weaknesses. Yours is women.”
EON Productions went through several years of copyright debacles, ultimately resulting in the retirement of Timothy Dalton from the role. It’s difficult not to wonder what a Goldeneye starring Dalton would look like. Pierce Brosnan of Remington Steele fame – another previous contender for the role, like his predecessor – was ultimately next in line; let’s see how his female counterparts measure up.
*Spoilers for all of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films*
Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) and Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), Goldeneye
Natalya Simonova is a Russian computer programmer working for the government. Boris Grishenko, one of her coworkers, helps Alec Trevelyan try to kill her and destroy the world financial markets. She teams up with Bond as she has useful information to aid him.
Virginia: Natalya is actually one of my favorite Bond Girls, and easily my favorite of Brosnan’s bunch. She’s smart, a voice of reason, beautiful and one of the most vital girls with regard to the plot of her movie.
Alex: She’s probably my favorite of Brosnan’s girls too, or at least the main girls. She’s definitely vital to the plot, and I think she’s one of the more quick-witted Bond Girls as well. She has a few really funny lines, and she says them with a straight face. She also calls Bond’s character and lifestyle into question, despite clearly being attracted to him.
V: I always yell “BOYS WITH TOYS!” whenever someone mentions her; I can’t help myself. It’s hard to explain what I like about her because I like everything we’re given. She’s smart and she puts it to good use both for the plot and for our entertainment.
A: I think my favorite moment of hers is towards the end when Trevelyan holds a gun to Bond’s head demanding she tell him the access codes and she says, “Go ahead, shoot him; he means nothing to me,” a repeat of what Bond said when their roles were reversed. She’s good, although I don’t think she’s one of my favorites. Despite her occasional one-liner, she’s not as fun as some of the best ones, or as interesting. She works well for the movie, but she doesn’t quite come alive in a way that makes you see why Bond would find her irresistible.
V: I guess you could call this a marriage of convenience. I pretty much agree; I like her a lot but she isn’t top five or anything like that. The personality is there; I think what we’re missing is a backstory and some meaningful dialogue. But more than its forefathers, Goldeneye is a sort of new age action flick. And I think Alec takes the cake for best character.
A: He’s a top-fiver.
V: “For England, James?”
Xenia Onatopp is Alec Trevelyan’s main henchwoman, an assassin with thighs of steel who suffocates her victims during sex. She’s the ultimate honey trap for Bond, offering him everything he could want in a woman before ending his life with a squeeze of her legs.
A: Now we’re talking! If secondary/evil women count, Xenia is my favorite Brosnan girl. She’s incredibly sexy, and she uses Bond’s greatest weakness as her weapon. The scene where she tries to kill him by the pool is one of my favorites of the Brosnan era.
V: She is very entertaining and very crazy. When I found out she was portrayed by Jean Gray, my life was wrecked.
A: I like Famke Janssen a lot. I always see Xenia first, because this the first time I saw her act, so I can never completely hate her, even in Taken.
V: I saw Goldeneye before X-Men, but it was years before I made the connection!
A: Xenia is very reminiscent of Fiona Volpe from Thunderball, another great character who used Bond’s desire against him. I find her more alluring than Natalya, but then she kind of has to be; otherwise the temptation wouldn’t be there.
V: Yeah, agreed. Their beauty is about equal for me, but Xenia’s figure would be more tempting, as well as her clothing and attitude. Natalya is a civilian and she knows it. Xenia is a crazy black widow searching for a victim.
A: Exactly, and I find that more attractive (which probably says some not great things about me). She wears her sexuality on her sleeve – except for the part where she’s also going to kill you – and the temptation that creates works really well for me. I also like how they give her little moments to help build her character, like her getting all hot and bothered when she massacres everyone at the satellite installation.
Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh) and Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), Tomorrow Never Dies
Wai Lin is a pile of steam fried dung. She’s boring, manipulative, self-centered, utilizes Bond to meet her ends, and is ultimately the epitome of the “strong independent woman” who lovers of story and character have come to despise. She works for the Chinese government and teams up with Bond (if you could call them a team) to save the world from a megalomaniacal news conglomerate.
A: I hate Wai Lin. She’s got zero personality, and she’s a fake Strong Female Character™ because the script goes through the motions of having her be tough, then she gets captured every two seconds and needs to be rescued. She’s probably my least favorite Bond Girl ever.
V: Could we skip her? Or sell her on Ebay or something? I like Michelle Yeoh but wow, this is awful. She’s so smug too, like she knows she’s smarter than Bond. Well, sorry, lady, but we have over 30 years’ worth of movies proving you wrong! She doesn’t really add much to the story, either. Bond teams up with enemy spy… again. But this time it’s really boring and she’s more harm than help.
A: Right. He’s ready to wrap everything up, then he’s gotta go back and save her, and that happens at least twice during the finale. Also, it gets annoying that she says “Ya!” every time she makes any movement whatsoever. Not just punches or kicks, but something like shooting a gun, like it’s a martial arts move she just pulled off. It’s like they’re trying to say, “Get it? She’s Asian! Karate!”
V: Wai Lin be like *Opens microwave* “Yah!” *places bowl in microwave* “Yah!” *closes microwave* *The ghosts of Bond woman past, present, and future come in. In trod Tracy, Natalya and Vesper. They take Wai Lin away. They teach her what it is to be a really interesting, fun Bond Girl.* It is too late, the movie is already out. She realizes her mistake too late. The end.
A: If only. I actually like Tomorrow Never Dies a lot, but Wai Lin is such a drag.
Paris Carver is a first for the series: an ex-girlfriend of Bond’s who reconnects with him and holds a grudge for being cast aside due to his womanizing ways. She’s bitter, but of course still deeply attracted to him, which puts her in a difficult position because she’s gone and married one of those evil madmen who want to take over the world.
V: This is like a splash of reality in the series. Surely some of these women grew fond of, even attached to Bond over the course of so many affairs? It’s kind of a funny idea. Bond runs into his ex. Chaos ensues. Anyway, beyond the emotions she embodies, there isn’t much to Paris. She is there to be Bond’s ex, and married to his enemy.
A: Yeah, she mostly exists to get him from A to B in his investigation of her husband, and to be gorgeous and have sex with him, of course. I like Paris, though, for two major reasons. First, she’s played by Teri Hatcher, and I’ve loved Teri Hatcher since I was ten years old; I was so angry when I saw this and she ended up playing second banana to Wai Lin. Second, her death (heartbreaking though it is for me every single time I watch it) leads to one of my favorite Bond moments, both from Brosnan and in the series as a whole.
Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) and Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), The World is Not Enough
Dr. Christmas Jones is a nuclear physicist working in Kazakhstan who is drawn into Bond’s investigation of Russian terrorist Renard. Once Renard gets ahold of the plutonium he needs to build a nuclear bomb, Christmas sticks with Bond to lend her expertise in defusing the bomb, although she doesn’t do a whole lot besides look good by his side. And she wears shorts, which seems to piss off a lot of people.
Elektra King is the daughter of oil tycoon Sir Robert King, murdered in the beginning of the film. M is a friend of her family. She is held hostage by Renard but they fall in love, leading to her playing the part of the oppressed victim, dragging M and 007 on a wild goose chase.
V: Well, I think Christmas is basically kind of similar to Paris: I like her, and she’s pretty, but I’m not sure what to say about her beyond that. Elektra, on the other hand, is a freaking beast! She’s evil, but she’s so good at it, and so good at pretending to be a whimpering victim for James to protect.
A: Elektra is a great character. Having the main villain be a woman is something new, and they went all out by not making her a carbon copy of Blofeld or Goldfinger, but a villain who uses the abilities unique to her gender against Bond. She uses her sexuality, but in a different way from Xenia or Fiona. She really preys on his weakness by making him fall for her. It’s a seduction of his heart instead of his body, and it works even better.
V: I like that you pointed her out as the main villain. I mean, from an outside perspective, Renard is the larger threat, right? But Elektra is behind the scenes. She has one hand on Bond and the other on Renard. She could do almost anything just by manipulating those around her. This series has reiterated time and again that James would do almost anything to help a woman in need. And this time it comes back to bite him.
A: Exactly. In a way, The World Is Not Enough is making the point that a woman like Elektra has more power than a more outwardly threatening guy like Renard. Bond can handle Renard easily enough, but Elektra is the one who almost destroys him. And Renard would just be a mindless thug kidnapping girls and doing whatever other random terrorist things he used to do if Elektra weren’t pulling his strings. She’s evil and all, but it’s hard not appreciate her in that respect.
V: She’s like Cersei Lannister, except she DOES know just how smart she is. I think Christmas is another example that works better as a character foil than an actual character. I don’t mind her but she isn’t life altering either.
A: Yeah, I pretty much agree. She’s not really important to the plot. She’s mostly there for sex appeal, and that’s fine and all (and Denise Richards has it to spare), but not as interesting as most of the Bond Girls, and definitely not as interesting as Elektra. And I liked all the puns she elicited from Bond.
V: Maybe Christmas should only come once a year.
A: I wouldn’t want to limit anyone’s joy.
Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) and Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), Die Another Day
Jinx is a strong independent black woman who… oh, nevermind. She works for the CIA, is a snarky blundering assistant to Bond, and likes to make jokes about her name. She’s always a jinx for us.
Miranda Frost is a British agent undercover as Gustav Graves’ executive assistant. She’s immediately apprehensive of Bond, but she eventually overcomes her last name and warms to him. Is her spy status the only thing she’s hiding?
A: These two women perfectly illustrate my feelings about Die Another Day. It’s got a lot to love, but parts of it are just really, really bad. In fact, one of them is the worst part of the movie, and she’s so terrible I think she sinks the film for a lot of people.
V: Jinx is annoying, stereotypical, boring, bland and mostly useless. The best thing about her is her bikini scene, a mirror of Ursula Andress’ iconic scene in Dr. No.
A: She’s a complete caricature, and the movie feels like it was written by people who’ve never met a black person in their life. She doesn’t talk like a real human being, even one in the heightened reality of the Bond movies, but like she just walked off the set of Good Times. She says things like “Yo momma!” but at the same time, they seem to be attempting to make her a female version of Bond. This was much more successful with Pam in Licence to Kill because Pam wasn’t putting on a show; it just felt like her real personality. Jinx is constantly shouting her Bondian qualities for all to hear, making a big deal about how she has casual sex, preening for the camera when she does spy work, and generally making a spectacle of herself in the most exaggerated ways possible.
V: So Rosie from Live and Let Die was a sort of shout-out to a lot of Blaxploitation movies, characters and tropes, but I think Jinx is much more tropey, and more of a black stereotype than Rosie ever was. As for Miranda, she is entertaining and beautiful. She’s sort of a diluted Elektra, doing whatever it takes to win. Once again the villainess proves to be Bond’s weakness, though here she is more of a lackey to Graves, as opposed the reverse.
A: I like Miranda a lot. She’s a much more interesting character, and Rosamund Pike plays her as genuinely conflicted about Bond, so when she is revealed as the traitor you buy his surprise. Up to that point she felt like she was evolving and starting to like him, making her betrayal sting that much more. She’s also responsible for one of my favorite lines in the movie, a shout-out to the Fleming novels.
V: Pike would later prove her grit again in Gone Girl, playing a similar, if more complex, character. At this point all I can say is Miranda rules and Jinx drools. To be the first black leading lady for Bond, she sure did let us down.
A: She certainly did. And Rosamund Pike was amazing in Gone Girl. I hope we see more of her now that she’s being recognized for her talents. A part of me wishes that Jinx had turned out to be the traitor so we could see her blow up or something and Bond could end up with Miranda – for as long as he ends up with anyone – but I don’t think Halle Berry would have pulled off the necessary character work nearly as well as Rosamund Pike did. Also, it wouldn’t have made sense that a CIA agent gave him up to the North Koreans, because how would she even know he was there?
V: Well, as Les Miserables taught us, “there are dreams that cannot be.”
Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day
With a new Bond comes a new Moneypenny. This time, the aptly named Samantha Bond steps in for the exiting Caroline Bliss, and a welcome change she is.
A: I like Samantha Bond a lot. She’s got a maturity that’s much more in line with Lois Maxwell than Caroline Bliss, and her banter with (James) Bond is more playful than the wistful daydreams of a schoolgirl in love, again like Maxwell. And she’s funny, able to hold her own in a sensual quip-off with Brosnan.
V: I like her too. In Goldeneye, I particularly like when she tells Bond that he’ll have to make good on his innuendos one day. It’s good to have Moneypenny on equal footing with James and playing games with him again, rather than daydreaming about him.
A: That’s what makes, as M would call it, “the customary repartee” so much fun. Bond isn’t taking advantage of her; she’s giving as good as she gets. Samantha Bond brings that quality in her performance. The line you mentioned from Goldeneye is the perfect example. It mocks the idea that what they’re doing is some kind of harassment because she’s an eager participant.
V: That’s a good point. Lois will always be my favorite, but I think it was wise for Samantha to take a similar route. I’m not sure what poor Caroline was thinking.
A: Unfortunately, Dalton got stuck with the worst M and the worst Moneypenny. Also, I know everybody hates this scene, but I love the virtual reality simulation at the end of Die Another Day. It was the perfect dangling of the carrot for longtime fans.
V: I find the scene funny. Dalton did get the short end of the stick in those ways, but on the other hand, both his films are good, have interesting leading ladies, and have good theme songs. This isn’t super relevant to her acting, but I really liked Samantha’s first appearance in Goldeneye with the long hair and the dress. Very classy and feminine.
A: I did too. The shorter hair, I guess, was intended to make her look more businesslike, but the longer was a nice contrast to M, who shies away from femininity in all aspects of her personality. Monepenny is different, hanging on to hers as she flirts with Bond.
V: Yeah, M is always all about being “professional,” as she calls it in Skyfall. I feel sort of superficial for saying it, but I wish Moneypenny had kept the longer hair.
A: Me too, for slightly superficial reasons as well.
M (Dame Judi Dench), Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day
In Brosnan’s films M is re-cast, this time as a woman. Dame Judi Dench would portray the MI6 figurehead for 17 years.
V: I have a lot of mixed feelings about Judi as M. She’s a good actress, and she can carry the role well. My problem with her is, well, the movie Goldeneye. She gives James this prepared speech about how he’s a relic, how much he hates women, and basically she sounds like a Tumblr user going on one of their social justice rants. I like her very much in the other films, especially The World Is Not Enough. She and Bond form an actual relationship throughout the films, besides Goldeneye, and in this one she plays a vital part in the story.
A: I mostly agree. I think she’s fantastic, and comparable to Bernard Lee’s M. You’re right about the relationship she forges with Bond, and it’s done really well. I did like that scene in Goldeneye, though, because I think there was real affection underpinning it. She runs through this list of reasons why she shouldn’t like him, tells him she has no problem sending him to die, then before he leaves, she says, “Come back alive.” And the delivery is perfect; it’s not a cold-blooded order or threat, but her imploring him not to get himself killed. I really enjoy her character, and the way she’ll defend him – again, very reminiscent of Bernard Lee.
V: It just came off as confrontational to me, like she was so unimpressed with him and bemused by her perception of his worldview. But that totally depends on your perception of her tone, which can be very subjective.
A: Overall, I liked the way she had to balance her coldness with how she cares about Bond. Like Die Another Day, for example, when she tells him he’s useless to her and only lets him back into MI6 when he becomes useful again, but when he’s not around she fights for him vigorously. It’s almost like she has to be even more ruthless because she’s a powerful figure in what is traditionally a man’s world, but she’s got a sort of motherly instinct as well and she directs it at Bond.
Next time we offer a rundown of Daniel’s den of dames.