I recently saw the trailer for the next James Bond installment SPECTRE and felt a sense of sadness because I could no longer recognize James Bond as James Bond. The franchise has noticeably been moving in a moody, forboding direction – more of an action-noir than escapist romp. But now he feels less like James Bond and more like the lovechild of Jason Bourne and Chris Nolan’s iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman…Where’s the international playboy? The indulgence in the lifestyle? Bond savoring a martini that’s shaken, not stirred. Hot women coo-ing “Oh…James” after a nightcap? Are those escapist elements a staple of a bygone era that no longer has relevance today? Has the 2008 financial meltdown sobered us all up including Bond? And we just can’t let our spies have fun while saving the world without thinking about our wasted tax dollars?
I do miss the old James Bond films and I think the best ones have the title song that captures the decade. The cheeky 60s GOLDFINGER, the psychedelic 70s LIVE AND LET DIE. And even the trashy 80s VIEW TO A KILL. Though that film is not the best from the period (I prefer the campy MOONRAKER) I give them pop culture cred for using Duran Duran for the title song and Grace Jones for a hench-woman cameo.
Which is your favorite Bond film? Do you think the playfulness and indulgence of that character is no longer relevant?
DHH: I have to say that, even as a kid, I never really liked James Bond movies, for reasons I wasn’t able to articulate at the time, beyond a vague sense that characters in that world would never see someone like me as anything other than an object of ridicule, or a target to kill. The only Bond movie I enjoyed back then was CASINO ROYALE, because at least that was a send-up of the genre, a notion which would return decades later with AUSTIN POWERS; by that point, even the mainstream Zeitgeist could no longer take the traditional image of Bond seriously. So I guess I like the new Bond movies better, because they present a straight white male icon who is tortured and conflicted, rather than endlessly desirable and unabashedly triumphalist. That said, I would be very interested to see a more old-school Bond — provided he was played by Idris Elba, Roger Fan or Sung Kang. Or maybe Penelope Cruz as Jaime Bond.
PHILIP: I think one of the reasons James Bond has remained popular over such a long period of time is the fact that he’s enough of an empty cipher that he can adapt and change with the times. Yes, the latest incarnation of Bond is definitely different than the one I grew up with–more of a reflection of our post-9/11 world, but clearly it’s resonated with contemporary audiences. Now, what I do have an issue with is how in the last film they gave Bond that lame ass back story. At its core no matter how Bond evolves, what’s always been a constant is his status as this man of mystery–we really don’t know where he comes from or even who he really is so for me, it felt more like a betrayal of Bond to strip that away from him.
I know it’s considered one of the worst Bond movies, but the one that will always have a place in my heart is A VIEW TO A KILL. Yes, it’s cheesy even by Roger Moore standards. Yes, Tanya Roberts is probably one of the worst Bond girls. But it was the first Bond I was old enough to see in the theater and holds a special place in my heart.
But I agree with DHH that in the next incarnation of Bond, it’d be great to see someone who’s not a white guy play the role. And I had a “discussion” recently with someone about what the best Bond theme song is. The correct answer is and always will be “You Only Live Twice”:
DOM: Oh goodness, let’s PLEASE have sobered up from the old-style irrelevant James Bond. Alan Moore, the great (insane) comics writer, takes the piss out of Bond frequently, including in his LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: BLACK DOSSIER.
Moore’s point being that classic Bond is a sociopathic skirt-chaser inflicting his suave British-guy privilege on everyone he meets. I couldn’t agree more. He’s terrible.
I’m really fond of the Daniel Craig Bond films, and would contend that without really backing off the macho-white-guy-dominance theme AT ALL, they maintain a sense of refined “style” that allows us to indulge the Vegas-suite-life fantasy. Like, how about the way he orders the martini in CASINO ROYALE? That is the sexiest drink-ordering scene of all time!
Would agree with Phil that if it has to be kitschy old Bond, it has to be YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, because ninjas! Ninja school! Screenplay by Roald Dahl (really)! The ridiculously lovely Mie Hama walking around in a bikini! And yes I know I’m contradicting my supposedly progressive gender-politics stance with that comment! Oh, and also this priceless exchange between Bond and the Chinese gal he beds in the first reel:
James: Peking Duck is different from Russian caviar, but I love ’em both.
Ling: Darling, I give you very best duck.
They just do not write ‘em like that anymore.
PHILIP: YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE–epic on so many levels, Dom! And the fact that Bond went full Japanese in that movie and was able to “pass” while looking like this:
Just shitballs amazing!
IRIS: I, like DHH, was not a James Bond fan growing up, and I think it was because of that image of what DOM described–too suave and too sexist. Maybe that provided for comedy, but I just never had any interest in seeing those movies. So, yeah, the old Bonds are too outdated. The lack of character dimension and the “women are just eye candy” sensibility needed a reboot. I, like others above, liked the Daniel Craig versions. They were the only ones I watched in the theater.
BEVERLY: I’m in the same boat as Iris. I didn’t watch the Bond franchise growing up and frankly, grew up thinking that Bond was an antiquated Macgyver that had a lot of women who didn’t last to the next film. Was it a comedy? I never knew if it was. Campy? Had no idea. Just had no desire to watch someone win all the time and no female character that I could admire and aspire to be. I actually didn’t start watching any bond films until Daniel Craig took over and he’s so sexy cuz he says so little. I’m not fond of the darkness, but I find him more relateable because he is flawed and because I’m not sure if he will always win. I like the uncertainty of it. So sadly I can’t say much about the Bond franchise as I know nothing really about it, except that I do enjoy the current batch of films.
ALFREDO: I’m with Elaine on this one. I’m a little tired of the dead serious/tortured/humorless zeitgeist, and I, too, miss the OTT campiness of GOLDFINGER and LIVE AND LET DIE, etc. To put those films through a “serious” exigesis misses the point, I think, of the baroque escapism of those pictures, of, for example, ridiculous, fun bad guys like “Jaws” and “Goldfinger.”
Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Auric Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” (you can practically hear the “bwa ha ha!” which follows).
The gap between AUSTIN POWERS and GOLDFINGER is much tinier than the gap between GOLDFINGER and the current crop of Bond films. Given free tickets to either show right now, I’d rather watch AUSTIN POWERS one more time than, say, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which just sounds like a really pretentious indie folk band. Besides, if I want grim realism, all I have to do is watch “Frontline” or “60 Minutes.”