Bond is Back
Over the weekend you could barely move for coverage of the 25th James Bond film “No Time To Die” in the UK. Bond films, which date back to the 1962 release of “Dr No”, have always been viewed both as a key moneymaking part of Hollywood and perhaps more interesting a cultural metaphor to the state of the British nation.
The early Bond chronicled Britain’s place in the Cold War, no longer an Empire who ruled much of the world but instead a strategically vital actor. Bond, with all his savvy, charm, brute skill and worldly knowledge was the scalpel to the American hammer. Felix Lighter and the CIA would always be on hand to provide the logistics to help Bond win the day, but it was British ingenuity, not the American superpower that was essentially for saving the world.
The easing of Cold War tensions see subsequent Bonds focus their energies on the secret global outfit, SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). The franchise’s ability to bring in the big bucks varied according to the lead actor and its ability to seize a global narrative. The Timothy Dalton films of the 1980s featured Bond supporting the anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, an unwitting reference to how Bond would have to define himself in the 9/11 era.
Pierce Brosnan reinvented Bond once more and saw him take on media moguls and renegade South Koreans, but the consensus was his final outings focus on technology – featuring an invisible car – didn’t take the ticket buying masses with him. Enter Daniel Craig in 2005 who would feature in five films running up to this month’s effort which was pushed back by Covid twice. This particular release is crucial as a test of cinema’s ability to bounce back following the virus and sustained closures. Will people be happy to sit in packed cinemas to watch films that are central reminders of what normal looked like?
The latest film was estimated to have cost some $900m so will need huge numbers of confidence filmgoers to even break even. Critics have widely plauded the film which at nearly 3 hours long is the longest Bond ever made. Craig was a controversial initial selection, for the most ludicrous reason that he had blond hair, yet he quickly filled the role and brought it far closer to the modern age.
How close exactly will be a matter of continual debate but perhaps that’s a healthy sign of how central the series has become in British culture in particular. Craig’s Bond showed emotion and was repeatedly shown being hurt and even tortured, something that was rare was his predecessors who lived under threat not actual harm. Likewise, his enemies were international terrorists who trafficked in arms, fossil fuels or extortion.
Ian Fleming, Bond’s original author, intended the character to be a boring blunt instrument who found himself in incredible circumstances. For the Bond of the 1960s international travel, easting exotic food and meeting foreign women was considered so exceptional to be worthy of a fictional series. Today’s modern Bond has to show both physical and emotional vulnerability. In “Casino Royal” he falls in love and leaves MI6, an organisation he has a strained and distant relationship with throughout his five films as opposed to his far loyally predecessors. His enemies still choose elaborate torture over killing Bond on capture, which is especially jarring considering their nominal backgrounds as biological weapons specialists or hackers who can escape from the most secure prisons.
Debate has already moved on to who the next Bond will be after Craig confirmed was his last. Those pushing for a more progressive Bond have put out a marker for a black or minority ethnic star or even a female Bond. However, the producers have essentially ruled out anything particularly radical not wanting to slay the golden goose. For those ardent enough to stay to the final credits they were rewarded with a caption reassuring them that “James Bond will be back”.
From a geopolitical sense it will be fascinating to see if the new Bond will take on the context of tensions with China or even reframe the character in light of the UK’s exit from the European Union. Either way you can guarantee that glamorous locations and prolonged action sequences will take central stage regardless.
by: James Denselow