If there’s one character who remains in Britain’s collective imagination, it’s James Bond. He’s the archetypal secret agent, and the first Bond movies paved the way for the spy movie genre as we know it. However, there’s one huge problem. Every spy movie since the mid-1960’s followed the Bond formula, and for many decades, the Bond films were stuck in the 60’s.
Before I talk about the character, let me briefly talk about the movies. I’ve seen just about all the 007 films, except of course for Skyfall. Out of 22 Bond films, only 11 of them were good. My big problem with the Bond film franchise is that the films tend to get repetitive, particularly the Roger Moor films, which shamelessly recycle the whole stupid formula. GoldenEye was the first Bond film that was radically different from the traditional formula, but now that movie became the template for every Bond movie released after GoldenEye, not to mention that each movie after Tomorrow Never Dies just sucks harder and harder.
All that aside, I’d like to focus on the character himself. Bond as we know him in films was a product of the swinging 60’s, a time when we were afraid of being annihilated in a nuclear war that would never happen. Bond was always portrayed as this suave character who could get any woman he wanted by saying the right things. Back then, there must have been some kind of appeal, but as the 60’s wore on, attitudes began to change, with feminism becoming more popular.
Meanwhile, throughout the tenure of Sean Connery, George Lazenby, and Roger Moore, Bond’s character never changed with the times, but perhaps even more bizarrely, neither did the women. A staple of the 007 film franchise is the so-called “Bond Girls”, James Bond’s numerous passing sexual fancies who are used as ubiquitous sex symbols. One thing I’ve always wondered about is how Bond seems to have a different girl in almost every film. Is he sex mad or something? Does he view women as objects? Does he view real love as inconvenient, or is he too busy to think of love in a more complex manner?
This trend doesn’t seem to happen as much on GoldenEye, but then again, GoldenEye was more or less a reflection on how stale the old Bond formula had gotten. One of the best moments of that movie was M’s critique of everything Bond was up to that point. She refers to Bond as both “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “a relic of the Cold War”. I like this for two reasons.
- It sums up everything about Bond up to the time when GoldenEye was made.
- It shows that, after over 30 years of the same mojo ad nauseum, people had finally gotten tired of the kind of man Bond was.
As true as this was, the Bond films still made plenty of money, so Eon Productions, the producers of the Bond films, kept making more Bond films, and will continue to make Bond films until the franchise becomes unprofitable. On top of that, James Bond, and everything that comes with him, have been ingrained in British popular culture, as well as the rest of the world, as the ultimate spy.
I can’t exactly blame them, but for me, the 007 franchise was over after the 60’s ended. Today, the 007 franchise now has 23 major films, with another one coming out next year. With Daniel Craig, it’s almost as though the series is on life support. Why can’t they just pass the torch to a new generation of spy films?
Today, there are so many spy films that it could make your head spin, but sadly, none could meet the challenge of replacing 007. I think we should face the fact that the spy film is a dead art form, mainly because we no longer live in the climate of paranoia and Cold War espionage required for those films to be relevant.
We can’t keep idolizing a relic of the Cold War forever. In fact, how long will it be before we finally shed all the Cold War nostalgia that’s being reinforced by dozens of ageing producers? If it really is true that nothing lasts forever, then I say that Bond is due for a major decline. After 52 years, when will Bond finally retire?