It’s remarkable that the Bond saga is still going after all this time. The series has proved its resilience and enduring timeless appeal by overcoming two of the greatest obstacles to its survival – the ending of the Cold War and the advent of political correctness. Bond changes his appearance (and sometimes his accent) every few years and never seems to age, yet no-one bats an eyelid.
Unlike that other great icon of popular culture Doctor Who, who is a Time Lord and thus has the power to regenerate when about to die, Bond is a mere human who has no such faculties. Instead 007 simply reinvents himself as and when required – with no plausible explanation of course, but then no-one really cares – the Bond films are essentially pure escapism at its best. They complement each other perfectly with Bond as the man of action and Who as the thinking man.
And as if part of a bad joke told by a fat comedian at a working mens club Bond so far has been played by a couple of Englishmen, a Scotsman, a Welshman, an Irishman and even an Australian. Who the best 007 was is open to much debate. But it’s more or less universally acknowledged that it’s not George Lazenby.
Traditionlists will insist that that Connery is and always will be the definitive Bond, if not the only “true” Bond.
Frustratingly, Dalton could have been an excellent Bond, but his career was cut short by a protracted legal wrangle, resulting in a long gap of 6 years between films. Two films just weren’t enough for him to fully establish his credentials or make his mark on the character. If only he’d accepted the role earlier rather than turning the first couple of offers down. We could have been spared the (almost) 60-year old Moore doing battle on the Eiffel Tower. Moore, although not a bad Bond overall, was just a little too over-the-top with his excessive campness and outstayed his welcome in the role. Brosnan, on the other hand was an excellent Bond, but his films weren’t that great.
The two greatest attractions of any Bond film are the exotic locations and (from a male point of view at least!) the glamorous women – two key elements of the successful formula which will remain no matter how many reincarnations Bond goes through.
Bond’s latest escapade is something of a departure from the norm. No corny jokes or inappropriate terrible puns following the demise of a villain, no Q and his hi-tec gadgets, no outrageous flirting with Moneypenny.
The comic relief following a high drama car chase or fight resulting in the death of his assailant – eg “positively shocking” on electrocuting a would-be assassin or “I think he got the point” on dispatching another with a harpoon – has been an essential characteristic of 007, yet glaringly absent from the Craig era so far. We are also spared the blatant sexual innuendo and Bond’s abuse of the elaborate gadgets he receives like a child with a new toy much to the irritation of Q with his schoolmasterish “pay attention 007!” lines.
The literary purists would argue that such tongue-in-cheekery was in any case a grotesque send-up of the original novels and thus at odds with Ian Fleming’s authentic Bond, a dark and complex character bearing only a superficial resemblance to the wise-cracking hero of the early films. However Craig’s portrayal of Bond in his two outings to date seems to have gone a long way towards rectifying this. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but I sincerely hope it’s a temporary blip, so that 007 can go back to his old ways without taking himself too seriously soon!
However one welcome change to the new Bond is the lack of clearcut distinction between the good guys and bad guys. In the post Cold War era we have terrorists, deranged businessmen, deranged businessmen, corrupt politicians and rogue agents all pursuing their own twisted agenda and loyal to no-one but themselves.
Craig’s Bond isn’t a terribly likeable character (compared with the more easygoing charms of Connery, Moore and Brosnan), but then 007 is essentially a bit of a bastard. He’s more concerned about getting the job done rather than being a nice person. So treating women as disposable objects, sleeping with married women, driving recklessly at high speed through a crowded city centre in hot pursuit of a villain with no regard for the safety of others or the cold-blooded killing of anyone who gets in your way are all par for the course if you want to be a successful secret agent.
The fact that a film only comes out every few years keeps the series fresh. There’s something particularly appealing about seeing a Bond movie on the big screen which you just can’t capture on TV.
Casino Royale went back to basics with Bond embarking on his secret service career and being assigned “double 0” status at the beginning. The series has thus been rebooted with a new timeline, effectively cancelling out the events of all the previous films as if they had never happened. It was necessary to do this to breathe new life into the franchise and get away from the tired old formulas of the previous films. However one major casualty has been the songs. There hasn’t been a decent Bond film song for a long time. The recent efforts are distinctly lacking in character are all a far cry from the classic tunes like Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, Louis Armstrong’s We have all the time in the World from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Rita Coolidge’s All Time High from Octopussy.
The new style may be less tongue-in-cheek, grittier and more sinister. But as with every Bond film the plots and situations are totally implausible. Our hero manages to emerge from violent confrontations and exploding buildings with little more than a few cuts and scratches. And despite how dire his predicament may seem, we the audience know he can never die. We are even mercifully reminded of this at the end credits with the famous “James Bond will return” line. How very reassuring.
The Dreaming Arm will return