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Our third guest post of the week is from Renay's fellow Xena fangirl, Clare McBride. Clare is a book blogger, fan, and pop culture critic at The Literary Omnivore.

The irony of being a queer intersectional feminist who is also a massive James Bond fan who will be seeing Spectre in IMAX on opening weekend is not lost on me. Yes, we all know how to love problematic things without letting them get away with being problematic, but the James Bond film franchise seems to pose a greater challenge than most texts. After all, it’s the Great White Male fantasy history of the last fifty years of English-speaking Western culture. Where, exactly, is there even room for someone like me in that kind of archaic, imperialistic worldview?

Women of Bond in Motion - Femme Fatales (1:4 packs)
A few examples.

On the side of evil, it seems. The Bond formula calls for two Bond girls: the good one and the evil one. Good Bond girls are approachable, not too sexy (although definitely sexually available), patient, and surprisingly capable. Bad Bond girls are aloof, sexually (and physically) threatening, occasionally queer-coded, and emotionally unstable. Good Bond girls ride off with Bond into the sunset (never to be seen again); bad Bond girls end up dead or converted to the side of good via the application of Bond’s apparently magical penis. To be a Bond villainess is to either have a short shelf life or give up your agency.

But Bond villainesses are also the only characters who actively question and reject James Bond. Yes, most Bond villains certainly reject Bond, but only as an obstacle to their plans. Bond villainesses reject James Bond not only as a person, but as a hero and as a concept.

Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe in Thunderball.

Case in point: the fantastically named Fiona Volpe, of 1965’s Thunderball, the only Sean Connery Bond film I like. (Having four female characters with significant roles certainly helps.) After she and Bond sleep together, Bond tries to dismiss and humiliate her by telling her that what he "did this evening was for Queen and country. You don't think it gave me any pleasure, do you?"

Fiona snarls back, "But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue…" With a flourish, she stomps on Bond’s foot and declares, "But not this one! What a blow it must have been, you having a failure…"

Of course, James Bond can’t suffer such a woman to live. Fiona is quickly dispatched. While the two dance, Bond spots a sniper (Volpe’s own) and maneuvers her into the path of the oncoming bullet. by Bond by a shot meant for him. Her corpse is abandoned, left in a chair at a party with an airy "Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead."

Volpe’s heiresses dot the Bond franchise for the next twenty years—kill them or convert them all you like, they still make their voices heard. (These are the scraps I have to work with here, which should tell you a little something about the power of representation and the growing holes in Bond’s armor.) Still, none are as openly transgressive as Grace Jones as May Day in 1984’s A View to a Kill, the queerest Bond villainess of them all. Okay, Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore is explicitly a lesbian in the original novel—due to, of course, being molested by her uncle—who heads an all-lesbian band of cat burglars, but the film only references that she’s immune to Bond’s charms. Up until the moment she isn’t, of course, and is converted to the side of good. May Day is the outstanding queer Bond villainess through the lens of both Grace Jones as gay icon and a definition of queer in the more conceptual sense of inherently transgressive and reactionary.

Grace Jones- "A View to a Kill"
Grace Jones as May Day in A View to a Kill.

May Day is the most physically commanding of all the Bond villainesses, aided by Jones’ Amazonian physique, her famously androgynous style, and the character’s super-strength. She bodily lifts a man over her head at one point to simply demonstrate what she can do. A lot of Bond villainesses are the villain’s mistress, but May Day is Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin’s bodyguard and sidekick. (Watching them dispatch people while rocking some truly unique eighties gear is a delight.) She’s ostensibly heterosexual, but her sexuality is threatening and dominant. When May Day and Roger Moore’s rickety Bond settle down for their inevitable sex scene, it becomes not a scene of head-tossing seduction but a scene of unblinking one-upmanship. (According to Roger Moore’s biography, Jones, warned that Moore liked to goose his scene partners in sex scenes, hid a large dildo in the bed to prod him with. Grace Jones is a national treasure.) Even the promotional material heavily contrasts Bond against May Day, wondering if Bond has, at last, met his match. And when May Day does turn against Max Zorin, at last, it’s not because Bond has converted her, but it’s because she’s watched the other female bodyguards she’s worked with be sacrificed to Zorin’s madness.

Of course, she sacrifices herself in the process—but for other women, not for Bond and not even for Queen and country. In a film franchise were women rarely interact at all, let alone positively—Eve and M’s interactions in Skyfall are the most significant—this is enormous.

But the greatest Bond villainess of them all is the one who transcends the bad Bond girl formula to become the Big Bad herself—1999’s The World is Not Enough’s Elektra King.

Sophie Marceau as Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Sophie Marceau as Elektra King in The World is Not Enough.

It’s a pity that the film, like most of the Brosnan films, isn’t good enough to fully execute such fascinating premise. Manipulating the formula to hide the villain in plain sight—Elektra successfully masquerades as the good Bond girl for much of the film—is genius, but it would take until the Craig years to begin deconstructing Bond in earnest. Her villainy stems from her having been abducted for ransom by the terrorist Renard and having fallen in love and/or Stockholm Syndrome with him after her father refused to pay her ransom. Being actively evil rejects Bond as a purifying, imperialistic force, but the idea of her having apparently sexually contracted villainy is distasteful at best. (Distasteful at best is sometimes the best way I can describe some of these movies.) The idea that her biggest sexual transgression is not being attracted to Bond feels like a low bar indeed.

Yet… there are flashes of something more in Elektra King. Maneuvered into victimhood by MI6 for its own ends, Elektra nonetheless rises in the criminal underworld and becomes the woman Renard admits to being worth fifty of him. The land she wants is explicitly framed as her Azerbaijani mother’s, stolen by her father and hers by right. She sleeps with Bond to manipulate him, knowing his reputation, but seems to look at him as something to possess—the same way Bond often looks at women. She has power and she knows how to wield it. Shame that the film doesn’t.

And let us not forget that Elektra King is the only Bond villain of any gender who gets the theme song all to herself. (Even "Goldfinger" is sung from an outsider’s perspective.) Written specifically from her point of view and brilliantly sung by Garbage’s lead singer Shirley Manson, "The World is Not Enough" is often cited as one of the best Bond theme songs ever written. All Bond villainesses must, tragically and infuriatingly, die or be converted for their transgressions, but their voices can’t be drowned out forever. Especially when they’re this catchy.


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