Judi Dench’s M was in the job from 1995 until the present day, making her 77 years old at the time of her decision to do battle with cyberterrorist Javier Bardem using home-made nail bombs and a sawn-off shotgun. If you don’t agree that this is the best thing ever then you’re clearly a slug, because, well… do you know how many old ladies you see in roles like this? The list pretty much begins and ends with Helen Mirren in RED. And before you all rush in with your Favourite Old Ladies Who Get Shit Done (although obviously I would very much appreciate that list), remember that for every fifty Dumbledores in popular culture, we get maybe one or two Professor McGonagalls. — Skyfall: the new Bond Girls.
using home-made nail bombs and a sawn-off shotgun
No actually I don’t agree, because if you’ll remember, she’s not the one using the sawn-off shotgun - in fact, this lady apparently can’t even shoot. Am I really the only on who was sorely disappointed by the way she was treated?
It seems in your post that a lot of the issues you have with the treatment of M and Eve are to do with the way they aren’t as physically tough as Bond — although Eve comes damn close to it. You say that Eve is “reduced to secretary status”, but I didn’t see it that way at all. I think it’s very clear from the get-go that Eve is an extremely confidant field agent who can hold her own in dangerous situations, but her problems arise when it comes to outright assassination. The reason why Bond is good at his job is because he has very few moral qualms about murdering people in cold blood, whereas Eve does, and she’s rattled by the fact that she (unavoidably) missed a shot and almost killed Bond. But despite this, for most of the film she’s still planning on going back into the field once she’s been cleared for duty.
At the end, her decision to take an office job fits in very well with one of the main themes of the movie: the blurring of the lines between “dangerous” field work and “safe” desk jobs. Silva’s attack neatly illustrates that MI6 headquarters are no longer a safe-haven, and Eve’s battle-readiness comes in very useful during the attack on the government enquiry. M probably would have been killed right then were it not for the experience and abilities of Mallory and Eve, the two characters who were “reduced” from fieldwork to desk jobs.
This isn’t a situation where Eve has been demoted to a lesser role or sent back to the office where she’ll be “safe”; she’s just seen the damage that can be done at the heart of MI6 and knows that it’s important for the agents close to M to be just as competent in a firefight as they are in the office. Unlike Bond, whose skills run mostly towards steely nerves and headbutting people in the face, Eve has a wider skillset and is just as comfortable at the office as in the field. You seem to think that working alongside M is somehow less important than being a 00-agent, but throughout the film we’ve seen that Bond is a tool of MI6 while people like Q, Tanner and M are the ones who are truly informed about the dangers they’re facing, and are bearing the brunt of those dangers back home in the UK.
Also, from a storytelling perspective Daniel Craig (and a lot of Bond fans) was keen for Moneypenny to return to the series, but obviously an old-school Moneypenny was out of the question. The idea of a secretary who answers calls all day and flirts hopelessly with Bond whenever he’s there to visit M is gross and dated and, to be honest, not really in-keeping with the tone of the newer films. Whereas this way, we get a Moneypenny with an actual backstory, who is demonstrably awesome and has a history with Bond that doesn’t make her seem like an embarassing stereotype, and a solid indication that working alongside M every day is a dangerous and interesting job, not just that of a “secretary”. Mallory knows Eve’s value and she knows his; you can be certain that her job won’t be to forward telephone calls all day.
With M, I guess my opinion runs pretty much along the same lines? M isn’t a field agent, and if she (at 77, and visibly infirm at times) was suddenly toting a machine-gun then it’d seem comical and out-of-character. From her first appearance in 1995, Judi Dench’s M has been calculating, cool, and good at playing the odds — which is already more characterisation than the rather one-note old male Ms received in the past. The fact is that M knows more about espionage than Bond will ever hear about. Bond is basically an extremely capable thug, whereas M is in charge of the whole of MI6 and has other people to shoot her guns for her. I can’t remember if the male Ms ever had cause to shoot someone onscreen, but if they did it was probably because they received their military training in World War II. I thought M’s method of defending herself (building nail bombs from scratch) was awesome and totally in-character, because it required ingenuity and showed that she knew her capabilities as a fighter — ie, she was completely OK with killing people without remorse, but as a 77-year-old woman she was aware that she couldn’t fight mercenaries in close-combat.
One final thing: the Bond films are about Bond. If every other character was an action-hero, then his character would serve no purpose. While he does do some intelligence-gathering, Bond’s primary role is to kill people who are a danger to MI6/Britain, and this was emphasised even more in Skyfall than it was in other recent movies. His particular brand of ultra-violence is balanced out by the more cerebral types of modern espionage that are represented by M, Q, and Silva. Silva has his own army of faceless mercenaries to do his fighting for him, whereas M has the 00-branch. As for Q, he’s simultaneously one of the most important assets MI6 has in its arsenal, and the “weakest”, which is why he’s holed up in a bunker for 90% of the movie.
I understand the knee-jerk desire for female characters to be more badass, because “badass” is the way most action/adventure movies show a character’s value. But the fact is that a) Q and M — and probably Eve, now she’s been promoted to M’s personal aide — are more powerful than Bond, and b) if every character is a badass then Bond would seem weaker by comparison and the stakes would seem lower, thus making the movie way less interesting to watch. The way things are now, the Bond franchise seems to have hit a perfect balance between old-school touches like the presence of Moneypenny, and tangible proof that “office” characters are the brain of MI6 while Bond is just the hand holding the gun.
PERFECT BREAKDOWN IS PERFECT.