Goodbye 007. It's been great knowing you.
I've always loved Bond, ever since my grandma sent me the entire video collection when I was 7 (giving appropriate presents was never my grandma's forte). I'd watch James Bond movie marathons (each one in succession, none left out). I'd hold James Bond birthday parties. I'd impress and slightly perturb adults with my encyclopedic knowledge of Bond's conquests. I'd spend hours in the bath, directing fight scenes between Bond and a succession of baddies (represented by Power Rangers), around the edge of the evil mastermind's ginormous bowel of deadly acid.
I was enraptured by the movies. I desperately wanted to be the spy. I loved everything about 007; the way he held himself, the way he did what he wanted, took what he wanted when he wanted it, his individuality, his resourcefulness, determination. His versatility to master any skill, escape any danger, overcome any foe. He wrote his own rules. He had the total freedom of someone with unstoppable, irresistible power.
It didn't matter which incarnation, the character remained the same. Connery, Lazenby (underrated), Moore, Dalton, Brosnan. All unapolagetically, to use the psychosocial buzzword, 'alpha-male'.
Suffice it to say, the Bond of 2012, of Skyfall, of Daniel 'Depth' Craig, is a different animal entirely. By contrast he seems almost apologetic of his masculinity, as if he is personally to blame for the global dominance of the white male in the last few thousand years.
In Skyfall, the movie-makers strove to make it crystal clear that everyone is equal to Bond, in every respect. This put a dampener on natural chemistry and banter emerging with his cohorts. Moneypenny is now lady-Bond, matching 007 blow for blow, stunt for stunt. Gone is the time Bond would walk in on a glamorous femme in a suggestive state of undress, now it was the macho Moneypenny walking in on Bond posing half-naked in a towel, before seducing him.
Q's no longer merely gadget man. He's now hacker extraordinaire, potentially more important to HMSS than Bond himself (despite the filmmakers' desperate attempts to emphasise Bond's unreconstructed worth in a digital age). M has now gone from exasperated, mocking superior ("I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur") to supreme commander, a dominant force taking bullets and pesky government interference in her omnipotent stride, treating Bond like a child. Of course M is boss, but there was always the implication that Bond continued to appease his masters only as far as it suited him. Now he looks more and more like a government lackey.
Sam Mendes et al were so desperate to bring the franchise up to speed with modern social mores that there was even a suggestion Bond is bisexual. It's okay guys! Relax! Bond's not perfect and was never meant to be so!
The character was not created to be a saint or even a particularly nice person. Certainly no bastion of progress. Ian Fleming's creation had precious little backstory, he was simply a male window out of the drudgery of 1950's post-war Britain, into a world of exotic locales, glamorous women and expensive luxuries. Nothing more, nothing less. The movies expanded this escapism into a slightly more juvenile boys' fantasy, but Bond remained more a portal than a fully fleshed-out character.
Attempts by recent filmmakers to delve deeper into 007's personality have highlighted his essential shallowness. In three films, the most we've learnt is he's an orphan. And...that's it.
The frustrating thing is Brosnan's Bond actually toed the line between fantasy and progress very neatly. Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, World is Not Enough and Die Another Day are all filled with strong women who, if not perhaps his equal, could more than hold their own in a battle of wits or a gunfight. A far cry from Goldfinger's buxom masseuse Dink, whose inglorious three minute appearance in the series as piece of mere lady-flesh was capped by her being spanked by Connery and told to leave as it's 'man-talk'.
Brosnan showed enough emotional depth to make him interesting, whilst maintaining a necessary distance. The beach sequence in Goldeneye between him and Natalya ("How can you be so cold?" "It's what keeps me alive". "It's what keeps you alone") is genuinely moving, and showed a glimpse of vulnerability under the superhero exterior. In World Is Not Enough, Bond is seduced and tortured by Sophie Marceau's Electra King, and has to be rescued in a brilliant scene with Robbie Coltrane and an unusual walking stick.
But at no stage did you feel Brosnan's Bond was a victim. He always maintained an overriding authority, the supremely confident presence of a man in control. It's hard to imagine anyone calling Brosnan, or Connery, or Moore, a "little shit", as Albert Finney does to the downtrodden Craig in his recent outing.
Ultimately, I think it might just not be permissible to make an old-school Bond movie in today's social climate. A movie where women are objects of desire, men are either baddies or assistants, and emotions are drowned out by gunfire and martinis. It's sad, because in my eyes Bond is harmless male fantasy, nothing sinister or threatening. I hope the tempering of the franchise's escapist edge is just down to the whim of a certain group of sensitive filmmakers.
But if Bond's neutering is an inevitable by-product of a socially progressive age, where white men are no longer a domineering, oppressive influence, I welcome it.
Godspeed Bond. You've served us well, but maybe it's your time.
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