Does the modern world need a 007?

With No Time to Die finally out in cinemas and Daniel Craig’s era of James Bond concluding, today I am addressing a very important question about the character…  does the modern world need a 007?

There is no denying the impact James Bond has had on the film industry and the impact he has made across the globe. The character, first appearing in print in 1953 and on screens in 1962 has defined the genre of spy films. Now it is hard to imagine a spy film without a fast car or  a cool gadget. All Bond fans (most notably British fans) have their favourite actors, normally the one they grew up with and their favourite James Bond film. For me I’m most familiar with Daniel Craig’s Bond although my favourite film is actually Die Another Die which is generally agreed to be the worst Bond film in the series (I like it because it has a terrific fencing scene and it’s the first James Bond film I saw) but that’s by the by.  As Daniel Craig’s era draws to a close, James Bond is no longer considered the global icon he once was. With the character receiving criticism in the media and by fans, today I will be looking at what went wrong with James Bond and how it can be fixed.

(Disclaimer: I wrote this post before seeing No Time To Die and so will be excluding it from this article.)

Before we can analyse Bond it is important to know under what circumstances the character was created. James Bond was the brainchild of Ian Fleming, who worked in the Naval Intelligence Division of MI6 during the Second World War. The division’s objectives was to aid their agents in the field and provide the Axis powers with false intelligence. There is no mystery as to the inspiration behind Bond, Fleming’s job was to document the reports of allied agents in the field.  Dušan Popov explained to Fleming how he made a $40,000 bet in a casino to force a rival to withdraw. Duane Hudson reported that spent almost all of World War Two behind enemy lines, survived several assassination attempts and sunk an enemy vessel single handed. Forest Yeo-Thomas recounted the times he was parachuted into Nazi controlled France, dined with the Nazis and used a variety of disguises to escape. When Fleming retired from MI6 he moved to Jamaica, founded the Golden Eye Estate and wrote the first James Bond novel Casino Royal. He decided on the name James Bond as, by Fleming’s own account, it was such a mundane name that would not arose suspicion. It is also important to note that Fleming’s series of James Bond novels and Eon Production’s James Bond films are two separate timelines. The films are inspired by the novels and serve as loose adaptations.

Arguably James Bond was at the peak of his popularity when Sean Connery was portraying the character in the early sixties. Out of the classic Bond films,  Dr No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball are normally rated highly by long term fans (this is not to say that the later James Bond films were bad but that the earlier films are simply a step above them). All four of these films were released in the early sixties,   society has developed since then and Bond.. simply hasn’t. He is a dinosaur, a fossil of 1960’s sexism.  While the classic films are enjoyable on surface level if you pay close attention you will notice several uncomfortable moments. For example, in Octopussy James Bond “seduces” Pussy Galore  in a barn before they have sex on a pile of hay. Throughout the scene Pussy Galore repeatedly says no and is physical restrained by Bond, making it look more like a rape than a seduction. (If you want to see the scene in question click on the word hyperlink in this sentence.) This worrying element continues into more recent films, in Spectre Bond seduces a character called Lucia hours after her husband’s funerial and holds her against a wall to kiss her, despite her protests. Although she does eventually give verbal consent the scene is  uncomfortable to watch, in the wake of the #metoo movement Bond’s actions appear more predatory than heroic and the character becomes morally grey rather than a hero.

Although Dr No was not the first spy film ever made or even the first film in a spy franchise, the reason for its popularity was due to how unique it was. It set up many elements of the James Bond mythos, the fast cars, the gadgets, elaborate supervillain lairs etc.. that other films lacked. Now that these staples have been established, they have become expected like items on a tick box. Over Bond’s sixty year film history every variation and subversion has been attempted resulting in the formula becoming stagnant.  Even though the actors portraying James Bond have been well cast and warmly received they fail to equal the pulling power of A list actors in other spy films such as Tom Cruise from the Mission Impossible franchise. The Mission Impossible franchise also has a cleaner film record that Bond with more success in terms of both box office performance and fan reviews. In short James Bond no longer leads the spy genre, now he is merely another contender.

To answer the question no, I think that the modern world does not need a 007.  We have other, less problematic  spy franchise to watch. Do I think Bond should be permanently retired? Not necessary. I think that Eon Productions have three options before them.

Option 1) Retire James Bond.

This would mark an end to the films but the James Bond novels and James Bond in other mediums such as video games can continue. While this will upset long time fans I think they will be the only ones upset. It is a shame that a franchise spanning fifty years will come to an end but it is just that. A shame. A sixty year run is nothing to be ashamed of. It is better to die with a roar than a whimper.

Option 2) Completely re-boot and re-tone James Bond.

Change everything in the Bond mythos aside from the name James Bond and the 007 codename. Remove M and Q, remove the gadgets and strip his connection to MI6. Then rebuild. You can bring back some elements if they worked well (I would argue the gadgets were the most popular staple out of the above) but new life should be breathed into the franchise.  Make Bond a female agent or portrayed by an actor of colour (this would also confirm the theory that the name James Bond is a code name passed down from agent to agent.) This decision will upset many people, maybe more than if Bond was retired but I think that this decision is warranted.

Option 3) Place James Bond in a decade long hiatus.

I think this is the most viable option. When Doctor Who returned after a sixteen year hiatus the anticipation was global. Arguably James Bond has already experienced a hiatus between Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig although that was only a four year break. With Craig’s Bond concluded, now is the perfect time for a break and leave the audience wanting more. There is a risk that younger audience members (those that  are to young to remember the classic films) will forget the James Bond character but I think that is a risk worth taking. They can watch the older films at a later date.

What are your views on James Bond? Should he retire, be killed off or return with a fresh face in several years? Let me know in the comments or on social media and I’ll see you next time.

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