It is James Bond month, and what better way to celebrate Jimmy’s 50th anniversary than to rant about how I wish that James had not turned into such a goddamn wimp.
The fact is, I love James Bond. Mr. Bond has been a staple in my movie-going experience. My friend Trey once told me that your favorite Bond largely depended on who you saw first: Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig. I saw Sean Connery first, watching Goldfinger with my older cousin, and never will I forget the sheer terror of that woman being painted gold. That is the sum total of my first Bond memory. Years later, Connery to me is the quintessential Bond: suave, handsome, but a bit of a jerk. His Bond has an underlying violence largely missing from later incarnations; he’s just this side of a well-dressed thug. It’s still a shock when he hits Daniela Bianchi in From Russia With Love. But he also has a heart, thought it’s concealed beneath layers of cold-blooded calculation. There’s just enough charm to help me ignore some of the more misogynistic moments; enough humor to get past the whole sleeping-with-every-woman-ever thing. Connery is so good because he plays Bond with an edge of meanness, even cruelty, and never makes him unlikable.
It took a few films for him to really get going – From Russia With Love drags, and Dr. No is from another planet. Goldfinger is perhaps the perfect Bond film, with a nefarious villain planning to nuke the entire US gold reserve, Chinese Communists, a tricked out Aston Martin, a silent Korean with a sharpened hat, and the most perfectly named Bond girl in the history of the franchise. Connery comes into his own, indulging in bad puns and innuendo with a knowing wink at the camera (“I’m Pussy Galore.” “I must be dreaming.”)
I’m all right with some of the Moore films – although I think they gradually became more woman-hating as we slipped into the 80s. Dalton, as Wayne points out, never really got a fair shake. George Lazenby might have been all right if he’d been saddled with a less dumbass idea than Bond falling in love. But Pierce Brosnan comes after Connery in my affections because the plots are insane, the stunts unbelievable, and the Bond girls are actually kind of awesome (Michelle Yeoh FTW! and Denise Richards notwithstanding).Something happened to James when the millennium came. Admittedly, I went into Casino Royale with a chip on my shoulder already because I enjoyed Pierce Brosnan so much. Still, Pierce was getting old and Die Another Day really did suck. I was willing to give Craig a chance. What I did not expect was a James Bond with so little … James Bond-ness. No charm, no gadgets – except for that fucking defribulater. A cool car that he wrecks for a woman that is obviously betraying him. Why? Because he loves her. The last James Bond movie that tried that screwed up royally, because James Bond loves no one. That’s the fucking point.
Allow me to continue: A villain with an asthma inhaler that can shoot poison darts is a cool villain; a villain who actually needs an asthma inhaler is not. A card game that ups the tension and gives James a chance to say things like “The name is Bond. James Bond,” is badass; a card game that goes on forever without the smallest shred of tension or purpose is fucking boring. But what really got me was the total lack of sex, appeal or otherwise, in the entire two hour run of a JAMES BOND FILM. I swear to God, I thought Bond was going to burst into tears when Vesper Lynd betrayed him.
What is going on, I wondered. Why is James Bond such a wimp? Why is he getting so upset and vengeful over a woman who betrayed him? Where are the gadgets, and Moneypenny, and the guys with killer hats and metal teeth? Why is this so fucking serious? Then I realized what was happening. He wasn’t James Bond. The parkour, the cold eyes, the jiggling camera, the apparent lack of sex … it’s Jason Bourne.
Is it that James Bond is archaic? Yeah, but he was archaic in 1962, and definitely archaic in 1992. What makes the best of the Bond movies so good is that they had a sense of fun. They were aware of being a bit ridiculous. Goldfinger works because there’s no real threat; just a lot of fun sequences, a bunch of throwaway lines. Bond was never serious; he never took himself too seriously. What I dislike about the Craig films is that they’re trying to be something they’re not. They’re trying to bring Bond into the 21st Century when he barely made it into the 20th.
Craig as Bond has all the magnetism of a statue – which is a shame, as I enjoy him in other films. Skyfall promises to give us a little more of the Bond we love – bringing in Q at the very least will appease some part of my boredom with this franchise. But when I’m more excited at the prospect of Javier Bardem as the villain than at seeing Craig return for another round, I’m a little concerned. As far as I’m concerned, Bond retired at the end of the millennium.
At the end of Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale, Bond is betrayed and Lynd is killed. ‘The bitch is dead’ he says. James Bond, mean and heroic and broken, is born. He never looks back. Why are we trying to?