Before the Bond Franchise was in limbo for six years the series was known, and probably still known, for being sexist. It's not subtle, but extremely overt in your face sexism. The worst offender is the most celebrated Bond film out there, Goldfinger. One of the most famous Bond Girls, Pussy Galore, gets raped in a barn towards the end of the movie. Seriously that's what happened. There are moments throughout the franchise where women are abused, or turned from a strong character into a damsel in distress who is head over heels for Bond.
Certain strong female characters are killed off or given nothing to do. A great example is Barbara Bach who played a Russian Spy in The Spy Who Loved Me. She was the Russian equivalent to James Bond, but sadly didn't do anything in the movie. There could be great characterization with these women, so much potential wasted not just for the actresses but also with the story. For Your Eyes Only has a character called Melina, played by former Chanel Spokesmodel Carole Bouquet, who is out for revenge. She starts off able to take care of her self, but towards the middle she hopelessly falls for Bond. After that she does very little and is forgotten about. It's an interesting concept to play around with, and the filmmakers handled it clumsily.
So after the hiatus, Goldeneye is released in 1995. Goldeneye is the prime example of representing female characters in a good light. And right out of the gate we get this lovely scene featuring Judi Dench as M talking to Pierce Brosnan's James Bond.
It's being completely self aware of what this franchise used to be, and starts by actively changing it starting with M. The character of M was always supposedly very stern and like a father figure for James. The character always wrangled Bond in, and with Judi Dench she did this perfectly. Better than Bernard Lee or Robert Brown ever could. She is given so much to do throughout her run as M. This was just one of the many consistently strong women to come out of the 90's era Bond films.
Even Moneypenny, played by Samantha Bond, told James Bond off when they first introduce her in Goldeneye. Her character was always very flirty, but I always took it as a game they played with each other. Something harmless, then Die Another Day ruined that by showing a pointless virtual love scene between them. Again making a strong character fall completely gaga in love with Bond.
Famke Janssen plays the most memorable femme fatale in the entire franchise. Okay her name in the film is ridiculous, Xenia Onatopp, but don't let that fool you! She is arguably the best part of the entire movie. She's an imposing figure, very dangerous, and she operates on her own terms. Her fight with Bond towards the end, to me, is the most tense part of the whole film. Better than the final fight between Alec and Bond. I wish she was given even more to do, because I was so impressed by her performance.
I was also very impressed with the main Bond girl, Natalya Simonova, played by Izabella Scorupco. I've never seen a character like this before in the franchise, so it was a nice surprise. Natalya feels like a real person and reacts like one too. She slowly adapts to the situation in a believable way. She is smart, able to take care of herself, she plays a crucial part in the final sequence, and saves Bond a few times. Some people find her bland, but I think she is the perfect and most competent companion Bond has ever teamed up with.
The 90's Bond movies were all about putting women in the forefront. Combatting the sexism issues of the past as best they could. As best they could....They aren't all perfect unfortunately. With each film getting a little bit sillier, the events, and the characters have to follow suite. This is where the films reverted back to being like the Roger Moore films.
I wish the other women were this great. Compelling, fun, and strong characters who are interesting. Sadly the films take on women slowly declined. Tomorrow Never Dies gave us Wai Lin played by the extremely talented martial artist Michelle Yeoh. Yeoh played a Chinese secret agent, and at first glance we see her kick ass and help Bond out of tight situations. Towards the end she does nothing but get captured. Teri Hatcher is also in the movie, and has not much to do but sleep with James Bond.
The World Is Not Enough has always been criticized for having Denise Richards play a nuclear physicist, Christmas Jones. Audience members couldn't buy her as that character, and she was just awful. But the movie did give us our first female villain. Which I have a feeling won't be the last time. Sophie Marceau plays Elektra King, an oil tycoon heiress who wants to control all the oil pipelines in Eastern Europe. She's the evil mastermind behind all the previous events in the film, and she is successful at manipulating other characters. Though she isn't given the best material to work with like many other female characters in the series, she does do the best she could.
Die Another Day gave us the most ridiculous Bond adventure to date. It also gave us Halle Berry as Jinx. Another Bond girl who starts off as an equivalent to Bond and ends up being completely useless. She is annoying and only serves the purpose of being eye candy. Same with Rosamund Pikes character, Miranda Frost. More so a throw away plot twist character who just gets unnaturally crazy at the end. Not to mention their fight scene at the end felt so forced.
Why do the girls have to fight the girls in action movies? You know like they have the one good girl who faces off with the one bad girl. Why can't the woman face off against the man or vice versa? Natalya never faced off against Xenia. Elektra faced off against Bond and not Christmas Jones. In World Is Not Enough Bond faces off with a women throughout the pre credit sequence. Are women not able to fight a man? Or can a man not face off with a woman? It just feels like lazy writing/filmmaking to me. Thankful this cliche or stereotype is going away.
The 90's was the first step to bring equality to the James Bond series. The Daniel Craig films are better representing females, and most likely future Bond films will follow. Hopefully Spectre will deliver some great characters.