Honestly, I have no idea what prompted this, but I was thinking about James Bond today. Actually, I know exactly what prompted it, but it sounds better to say it came out of the blue than from hours of mindlessly clicking around TV Tropes. I’m not exactly an expert on James Bond, but I was about 8 years ago. It may have been longer. It started when Goldeneye came out on N64. After milking that game for all it’s worth, I eventually branched out and watched all the movies (including Never Say Never Again, shudder). I read nearly all of the novels. I played a long string of Bond games that weren’t Goldeneye. I think it’s safe to say I’m about as familiar with the James Bond mythos as any casual fan. So if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to now try to explain why James Bond will never be as good as it used to be.
Let me get this out of the way: I don’t like the Daniel Craig Bond movies. I like them better than the Timothy Dalton Bond movies. I like them better than the later Roger Moore movies. I like them better than almost all of the Pierce Brosnan movies. But it sort of shows why I fell out with James Bond in a way I never did with say, Star Wars. I understand that the original James Bond, the one Ian Fleming created, was kind of a jerk. He was a misogynist. He was a cold blooded killer who would do whatever it took. He was sort of a sociopath. Daniel Craig gets that across. But here’s the thing. The last thing James Bond movies need is a gritty reboot.
This may be unpopular. In fact, I guarantee it is. I must be in the minority on this, but I don’t much care for dark, gritty reboots. That’s the trend these days, and I feel like a loser for not being on the bandwagon. But I’d rather watch 4 episodes of Adam West flouncing around as Batman than 2 hours of Christian Bale growling about justice. Maybe I just love campiness. In any case, I think people who like James Bond tend to fall into two groups:
1. People who like Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace – These people tend to like Timothy Dalton better than Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore. If you get enough alcohol in them, they may admit to liking On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They like From Russia With Love better than Goldfinger. They tend to play serious video games. They watch the movie Groundhog’s Day, but only because of the philosophical implications.
2. People who don’t like Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace – These people will happily sit through Roger Moore quipping his way through space in Moonraker and think The Man With the Golden Gun is the underappreciated gem of the franchise. They liked the Goldeneye movie more than Casino Royale and will happily admit it. They absolutely think Goldfinger is the best Bond movie. They also like the entire Back to the Future trilogy, not just the first one.
Obviously, this is mostly in jest, and I’m sure completely wrong. But let’s pretend for a minute. The only thing everyone agrees on is that Sean Connery was the best Bond, and his movies are without question the best in the series. Group 1 people think it’s because Sean Connery’s Bond was a complete badass, with his hairy chest and cigarettes and the casual rape-i-ness of it all and what have you. People in Group 2 don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because Sean Connery is the best actor to have played the role. Maybe it’s because the plots are the perfect balance of ridiculous and realistic. Maybe it’s because that’s what everyone says, and they don’t want to seem like an idiot.
Well, I consider myself a Group 2 person, and I’m going to put down my theory. Sean Connery played Bond in the 60s and early 70s. He was the closest, time-wise, to the actual writing of the books. He also had the opportunity to define the role with out the pressure of competing with, oh, Sean Connery. But for me, the key is the time period. James Bond really is a time piece. Some movies age well, others don’t. Ghostbusters is still fun and interesting. Airplane! will never get old because even though traveling isn’t the same as it used to be, disaster movies are. James Bond, as a character, will always look out of place. He was crafted to be a man of his time, i.e the late 50s to early 60s. Whether or not Ian Fleming meant Bond to be a lighthearted goof like Roger Moore or a scowling sociopath like Daniel Craig is irrelevant. The fact is, 007 is not suited to our world. Maybe the stakes aren’t high enough. Taking on warlords and smugglers isn’t the same as preventing worldwide nuclear war, you know.
But I think it runs deeper than that. Sure, Craig’s Bond is probably more like Fleming’s than Brosnan or Moore’s. The problem is, we don’t want our heroes to be misogynistic twats who aren’t all that interested in not killing people for spite and raping women until they turn straight.* The world of James Bond is one of Black and White morality. No, the Soviet Union weren’t evil. But SPECTRE was. And MI6 were good. James Bond never wrestled with questions of right and wrong. You didn’t see Sean Connery waxing philosophical while he held another man’s life in his hands. Nope, he killed him because the guy invented a puppy-rapping machine. And then he quipped about it. Today’s world is much more Black and Grey, which is why we end up with all of these gritty reboots passing for original entertainment. Forcing this onto a guy who throws people through plate-glass windows and casually commenting afterwards, “He was getting to be a pane” is a bit incongruous. The problem with the Craig movies is that they’re good movies (well, the first one anyway), but not good Bond movies.
*Seriously, watch Goldfinger again. When you get to the fight scene where the 6’5” Bond is facing off with the much smaller Pussy Galore in a barn, stop and think about it. He not only kicks her ass, he has sex with her, something I’m not sure she was really interested in. But the sheer machismo not only turns her straight, it also makes her fall in love with him. The problem with dark and gritty reboots is that they’ll still keep the womanizing Bond, while playing everything else “realistically.” The mind boggles.
Anyways, the reason so many people look at Sean Connery’s Bond as best is that he was the best fit. Roger Moore seems goofy because he seems almost self-conscious. He knows the attitudes are changing around him so he has a bit of a sense of humor about it. But Connery could play Bond as Bond was meant to be. They may never be able to capture that again. But if I was tasked to make the next Bond movie, I would set it in 1967. It would have the US and the USSR, and a psychotic villain playing them against each other. James wouldn’t have a watch that could burn a hole in a floor or a belt that shoots poison darts or a car that can travel through time if it hits 88 miles per hour. He would have a gun, a briefcase, and maybe a grappling hook, and he would fight legions of baddies in an underground doom fortress before knocking the big bad into a pit of molten piranhas. Then he would have sex with a woman who actually wanted to do it while making a joke about the villain getting his “just desserts.”
And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll make a Batman movie where he still wears pajamas and fights villains who want to destroy Gotham City with a giant weapon that shoots exploding cats.