A guide to James Bond—for those who hate James Bond

James Oliver

Just as they threatened, James Bond has returned. Again. Right now, we’re counting down the hours until his latest mission, Spectre.

Since Spectre has spent in the region of £24million trashing cars, we can safely assume no radical changes are being made to the classic Bond formula.

As excitement mounts, it's worth asking why this series hasn’t just endured over the years but prospered. 007 has been gracing silver screens for 53 years and yet audiences still aren't bored. What is it that's made them so successful for so long?

 

Our man in wherever

James Bond
Image via Genius

Bond first appeared in drab 1950s Britain. Rationing might have ended a couple of years before Bond-daddy Ian Fleming published his first adventure, Casino Royale, but glamour was still in short supply.

Here was a character that unashamedly embraced the high-life—fine foods and foreign travel. Heady stuff indeed.

When the character was adapted to the screen, the producers took this escapism to ever-greater heights and audiences loved them for it. Bond wore the best tailoring, drove the fastest cars and lounged on the sunniest beaches. And for just a couple of hours, we did too.

 

The (dis)honourable schoolboy

bond you only live twice
Image via You Only Live Twice

It isn't just the surface trappings that make Bond so popular. Bond was how Fleming liked to imagine himself. Debonair, suave and irresistible to 'the ladies'.

Bond represents an archetypal male fantasy: strutting around in tuxedos, posing in powerful cars and playing with nifty gadgets.

There's the sex too. Not for Bond the awkwardness of dating; one whiff of his unusually potent pheromones and even the sourest spinster goes weak at the knees.

Later films did curb Bond’s tomcatting; Timothy Dalton's 1980s Bond was more chaste than his predecessors, a concession to the AIDS epidemic. There have even been a few modest concessions to feminism, like allowing the women in Bond's life to have a personality.

 

The Bond identity

The Bond identity
Image via Skyfall

So Bond isn't immune to social pressure. Indeed, the producers are always thinking how best to keep him relevant. For the 21st century, they've decided that means taking him seriously.

Influenced by the Bourne movies, Daniel Craig's Bond is a dour fellow, complicated and messed up. He's suffered loss. He broods. He drinks Heineken.

All this is well and good, but it forgets that Bond is one of the most ludicrous characters in fiction. Bond has to be a fantasy.

If he were a proper, three-dimensional character he'd be horrific. A clinical psychopath who murders without conscience. A misogynist incapable of forming adult relationships with women. A civil servant whose extravagant tastes are presumably funded out of our taxes.

A film about the psychology of this state-sponsored psycho would be fascinating. But that's not what we're getting.

Instead, what they mean by 'serious' are the usual Bond highlights but weighted down by dull, hair-shirted gravitas.

Power ballad over slightly pervy credits? Check.

Daft villain and super-human henchman? Check.

A killing followed by a witty quip? Check.
 

Daniel Craig in Skyfall
Image via Skyfall
 

Ultimately, Bond should be about fun—about being irresponsible, leaving polite society behind and indulging in thoroughly inappropriate behaviour for a couple of hours.

Any character can furrow his brow, but it takes something special to be such a universal guilty pleasure. Mr. Bond, it is your duty to go and enjoy yourself—for Queen, country and cinemagoers around the world.

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