Earlier this week, noted genius Stephen Hawking told The Telegraph that his “ideal role would be a baddie in a James Bond film,” continuing that, “I think the wheelchair and the computer voice would fit the part.”
Unfortunately, Thursday’s 007 press conference squashed the physicist’s dreams of big screen fame and badassery, as Bond director Sam Mendes revealed the name of the next series installment, Spectre, and announced the cast: Daniel Craig and Christoph Waltz, a host of regulars from 2012’s Skyfall, and two new Bond girls, Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux.
While Hawking’s name was tragically missing from the Spectre lineup, it doesn’t take a legendary theoretical physicist to calculate the unprecedentedly small age gap between Monica Bellucci, 50, and Daniel Craig, 46. Bellucci is making history as the oldest Bond girl yet (seriously, isn’t it about time we start calling them Bond women?), a title that was formerly held by Honor Blackman, who was 39-years-old when she played Pussy Galore.
While still relatively unknown stateside, Bellucci is a reigning vixen in France and her native Italy. She began her career as a model at the age of thirteen, modeling for Dolce & Gabbana and Dior. While she originally wanted to be a lawyer, she ended up turning to acting—she’s said that “to be a lawyer was too boring for me—for my personality.” The actress, who also speaks three languages, built a film career in movies like The Matrix Reloaded and the Passion of the Christ, where she played the OG seductress, Mary Magdalene. And did I mention she’s single?
While Bellucci’s casting, with its added implication that a 46-year-old action hero could actually be attracted to a woman his own age, is a great step forward, it’s important to put it in perspective. In a culture where women are often viewed as disposable objects for men to do sex to, the Bond series has actually cemented this backwards ideology with a pantheon of Bond girls that act as interchangeable, throwaway love interests.
The franchise is built around big name actors who are lauded for the ways in which they further develop and individualize the eternal spirit of James Bond. Being chosen to embody James Bond is a huge boon for any actor, and will continue to be a career-maker for many years and 007 eras to come.
Conversely, being a Bond girl means signing up for something inherently transitory; a one-shot job that, more often than not, is glamorously flimsy. A Bond girl has a handful of roles she might be asked to play—evil seductress, loyal helper, and dead girl are just a few of these classic tropes. The baddie Bond girl is sent to distract Bond; she’s also a welcome distraction for the imagined male viewer, who stereotypically enjoys some female body parts peppered throughout the shoot-outs and high stakes gambling scenes. Meanwhile, the loyal helper moons over 007 like a 1950s housewife—sweet and servile, always ready to cheer him up with a sex scene, a martini, or some helpful behind the scenes spy tips.
In 2012’s Skyfall, we see the best example of this Bond girl in Naomie Harris’s Eve—a field agent who, due to her incompetency, ends up taking a desk job as Bond’s glorified secretary-cum-booty call. While there’s no problem with working behind the scenes (especially when your work is high stakes international intrigue), Eve’s role as demoted agent turned devoted helper isn’t exactly a Lean In- approved take on the modern corporate world. Skyfall actually bravely uses two misogynistic tropes, also featuring a murdered woman whose death acts as impetus for Bond-style revenge.
Which is all to say, despite casting a 50-year-old woman, the Bond series still has a long ways to go if it wants a cookie for being feminist-friendly. Also, it’s one thing for a legendary, timeless franchise, which doubtlessly attracts a more mature audience, to cast a full-fledged woman. Tons of props to Spectre, but I doubt that this single casting decision will have lasting effects on cruder “manly” movies, where the 20-year-old women preening for the cameras often have the same number of lines as the tricked out cars.