To associate a genre such as the spy film with love is, in reality, a little bit ridiculous.
To tell the truth, the issue is not just with women, but the spy genre as a whole. The focus is no longer espionage and heroism—it is how many explosions can we achieve in the span of two hours and how violent can we make it. Fleming’s Bond is an example of this bastardization, but we can see the spy film turning into the action genre with Jack Ryan, the Bourne series, and Mission: Impossible. These films are defined by car chases, guns, and the destruction of massive buildings. Subtlety and delicacy are no longer tenants of the spy hero. Instead, the question is how big of a scene can he create?
Tied in with this is violence, which leads easily into violence against women. Daniel Craig’s second (and worst) installment of the Bond series, Quantum of Solace, featured 250 acts of violence in total and 31 deaths. The most important death of the film is Bond Girl Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arteton). She is found lying in a pool of oil on a bed; sexy even in death. It seems cinematically telling that she is discovered dead in the same place where she and Bond had sex the night before. What was the point of her character? Well, to enhance the circumstances of Bond’s peril. He isn’t truly in danger until the hot MI6–sponsored secretary is found murdered on the bed.
To that point, what is the Bond Girl trope? She is a disposable woman on James Bond’s arm, an ever–rotating trophy girlfriend until the villain kills her or she dies in Bond’s arms. It is not about love and yet we are supposed to get to know this woman in twenty minutes and mourn over her death (or, rather, the loss of her classically–attractive face from the big screen). She will always be forgotten in the next hour, or, if not, she will be mentioned in passing with a little pout of Bond’s lip.
It is important to realize that the relationship in these films is less between women and love and more so between women and violence. They are objects for violence to be inflicted upon (as to hurt their romantic interests) and they are objects to be traded between more powerful men. To claim that the Bond Girl acts as a pawn is an understatement, since her strategic importance has an impact of about twenty minutes. The villain uses her as a gadget against Bond, manipulating his weak spot, while Bond uses her as a tool for information or insights. She is objectified in every way: by the directors, the villains, and the supposed good guys.
Most painful is when filmmakers (almost always men) try to paint these women as inspiring. These women are hailing themselves as feminist—via faux–empowering remarks against their traditional spy hero, of course—while still getting treated like mere objects by the narrative. It is a dissonance between the dialogue and the plot: Women claim they are in control of the situation, yet they never are.
Therefore, do not call the relationship between Bond and the Bond Girl a romance: It is an acquisition of an object, which is both a benefit and a risk. It is never a love story because we all know it will inevitably lead to sex and then death. Whether or not the woman is married, against Bond and his character, or destined to betray him, we all know the three steps of their story: meeting, sex, and then her ultimate end.
What does this say about love in the spy genre? Bond (or whoever the hero is) can never find time for it. The women he lays with are going to die just because they are in close proximity to him; he is too lethal, too busy, too broken by his past. The most recent Bond film, Spectre, ended with Bond pulling out of town with Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), but we all know he will return and save the world. There is no riding off into the sunset in this genre.
Yet, should there be? Perhaps. The spy genre, however, is built on overwhelming masculinity and violence, what is hardly considered a woman’s world. To allow women to be actual people with a say, we must take apart the entire universe of the genre. Why is there no longer subterfuge, only excessive displays of physical prowess? Why are these men always sleeping with women as a form of manipulation? The spy genre focuses on an overpowered hero who must trick those around him to get the information that he wants, and this is always at the expense of women.
The narrative hatred of romance and women is tied to the hyper masculinity of the genre as a whole. Bond is a powerful lone wolf—never one for the feminine softness of romance. This is why these stories are only ever seen as sex and violence. Until the spy genre is deconstructed, no longer about the prowess of men and their masculinity, the spy genre romance—and the Bond Girl—can never survive the film.