The sexism of Casino Royale seems more insidious than previous Bond films, if such a thing is possible. Perhaps it’s because it’s the 21st Century and we hope the world has progressed since Ursula Andress first walked out of the ocean. But what is most troubling is that Vesper Lynd, when we first meet her, is not a sexual stereotype, although one would argue she is the stereotype of someone who is trying to be portrayed as not a stereotype. She is a buttoned-down accountant, entrusted by the British Government to handle large sums of money. However, once they arrive in Montenegro, Bond gets her a dress and insists that she wear it so that the other men can look at her. Worse yet, like any manipulative asshole boyfriend, he later chastises her for approaching the table from the wrong direction thereby failing to fall into the gaze of the other men. Rebelliously, she defies Bond and returns to wearing clothes that suggest the powerful position she holds within the British government…oh, wait that doesn’t happen. Yeah, she spends the rest of the movie slinking around like the rest of the Bond women.
After witnessing Bond kill two armed thugs, Lynd crawls into the shower and cries. Certainly, witnessing such an event is traumatic but it’s telling that her response is to break down and cry and yet still become emotionally attached to Bond, sensing, I guess, there is some good in him despite evidence to the contrary. We’re seeing a weakness in this character and a disturbing parallel with domestic abuse victims. She allows him to tell her how to dress so that she creates a particular male-centric perception and she continues to love him despite his violent acts. It’s an uncomfortable story arc for sure. Her weakness is further realized when, after betraying her country and Bond, her solution is to kill herself.
Men are allowed to die fighting. Women die in very passive ways. Lynd allows herself to be drowned. She does not even get to initiate her own death but simply allows it to happen. Solange, who Bond, in a way, “wins” from Dimitrios, dies from off-screen torture.
The other major female characters fare better. M, of course, is a powerful figure in the film, but her authority is undermined by Bond by breaking into her house, learning her real name, and stealing her password. Le Chiffre has a female partner, who remains half-dressed throughout and barely speaks.
I’ll admit the film isn’t all bad. I’m not a big fan of action movies but recognize that many of the sequences here are above par. I’ll also admit that I liked the framing of the film, opening with a chase sequence in a building going up and ending with a chase sequence of a building going down. It’s a fitting analogy for the birth and death of Bond the hired killer and the emergence of Bond the secret agent. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the film does little to give this transformation any credibility or emotional death and it is exceedingly disappointing that the filmmakers didn’t see fit to have a more progressive worldview. Casino Royale was a missed opportunity to bring the Bond franchise into the 21st Century.