A modest proposal for action films

Can we PLEASE stop killing off women close to the hero and calling it character development?

Specific Skyfall spoilers ahead …

The thing is, taking Skyfall in a vacuum, I wouldn’t object to M’s fate. She’s one of two main characters in this film, and the story is almost more hers than Bond’s. It’s her decisions and history and mistakes that drive the movie. Her death is an earned conclusion to her character’s choices (even if it’s pretty slipshod in actual execution) and more than just a source of cheap angst or revenge motivation for Bond.

But her death doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens after this James Bond spent the past one and a half movies angsting about and seeking revenge for Vesper Lynd’s death. It happens after this James Bond sees the woman he’s casually slept with casually shot in front of him (only after she’s bloodied and tied up and terrorized, and he’s made sure to tell us her sad history as a sex slave, just in case you thought her story was missing some brutality).

Daniel Craig’s James Bond is turning into a regular typhoid Mary of action heroes. And sure, it’s Bond; women have always died in his wake, and considering the series’ retro origins and good-old-boy fantasies, it does seem a little silly to get worked up about gender injustice in this movie. (Don’t even get me started with Moneypenny. Here I actually spent part of the movie thinking Naomie Harris’ deskbound spy was being groomed to take over for M, not being demoted to the secretary role.)

But it’s frustrating, and more then a little boring, to realize just how much action movies these days rely on this trope of killing off the women, over and freaking over again. It’s especially acute in the more prestigious, oh-so-serious action franchises of the past decade. Bourne? Lost Marie. Christopher Nolan’s Batman? Lost Rachel Dawes. Now here comes Bond, stuffing M into his refrigerator after Vesper.

It’s not even specifically a feminist objection I have — or at least, not solely that. Motivating your characters by killing off their loved ones is just lazy, and pretty damn boring. It doesn’t tell me anything about who Jason Bourne is as a human being if he wants to get revenge for his lover’s death — of course he does. I would have stayed much more interested in that character without Marie’s death, when Jason was motivated by curiosity mixed with dread about who he was and what he had done. With Bruce Wayne, who became Batman after his parents’ death, bumping off Rachel was just overkill.

Then you have J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, which managed to kill off a father, a mother, a wife and two entire planets in service of character motivation. At least Abrams will probably run out of auxiliary characters to sacrifice in the sequel. That’s also my hope for the next Bond movie — with M’s exit in Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s Bond will have to become compelling on his own. Of course, if the writers run out of ideas, there’s always poor Moneypenny.