I love James Bond films. I hate James Bond. So it has always been since I was a child, raised on a cinematic cycle that means a lot to me but that is centred around an individual who I find repugnant.
Is this problematic? Having thought about it a lot in the build-up to Spectre, I realize that it isn’t. As I have been for over twenty years, you too can enjoy – even love – James Bond films while despising the figurehead of the franchise. Now pay attention 007 fans – I’m going to break it down and explain my unusual attitude towards the world’s greatest secret agent and his film series (and he’s not the world’s greatest secret agent. The world’s greatest secret agent would be secret, but everyone knows the name ‘James Bond’).
First, allow me to set-up a character assassination of Bond. James Bond is a bastard. There’s a pretty slick spoof music video on YouTube that puts his personal faults to the famous John Barry theme tune and that pretty much nails it (sample lyric: “Because I’m suave it’s okay for me to act like a prick”).
Still, with 24 feature films to his name – I won’t count the non-canon Never Say Never Again or the Casino Royale with Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond – I figure it’s only fair to scrutinise him further and slam him some more. It was great when Judi Dench entered as the new M in GoldenEye and labelled Bond as “a sexist misogynist, dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.”
This is true, and it also stands as a rare moment of self-awareness from the franchise itself. Otherwise, it’s up to viewers to objectively acknowledge that their screen hero is a hideous human being. Put aside cultural conditioning and passive complicity in the idea that this guy’s a hero and you see lucidly that 007 is a moral morass, a personality crisis, an antisocial ego disease and a fatal hot mess squeezed into a tuxedo.
James Bond is a gun for hire. He’s a professional murderer. He makes a living out of other people’s dying and a whole hock of other unethical chicanery comes alongside it in this espionage career. You could say that he’s just a dude doing his job and that “everybody’s got to make a living” but that kind of reasoning is dubious and unconvincingly attempts to cover over a whole host of sins.
Over the course of his screen appearances our subject has killed over 350 people, and that figure doesn’t take into account all the off-screen slaughters and potential cases of collateral damage. However you weigh it up and sync it alongside your own personal moral compass, I think we can agree that it’s all a bit overkill and that a less morbid and murderous profession is preferable. Bond is a handsome man with an array of transferable skills. Couldn’t he try his hand as a male model, a sales representative or as a karaoke bar owner?
007 is a tool of “The Man,” but it’s also important to judge the particular “Man” he acts for. He works “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and that means he’s in the employ of the Queen of England and the British Ministry of Defence. The former is an unelected monarch who sits as an icon of aristocratic privilege and, arguably, a symbol of colonial imperialism and Western decadence.
As for the latter, the inner workings of the MoD and all its arms and tentacles are a mystery. We know that Bond is beneath a lot of shady secretive personalities and unaccountable bureaucrats. They may be working in the best interests of national and international security. Then again, they may not and, quite probably, are not. I’m reluctant to say anything more along these political lines lest I be branded a “Britain-hating traitor” or something. All I’ll say is “Edward Snowden.”
Anyway, back to 007 and his personality and personal character. James Bond has a laundry list of bad habits and iffy traits and they’re the kind of features that would set alarm bells ringing in the real world. He’s a gambler, a smoker (for a long time at least) and he appears to have an alcohol problem.
This man travels far and wide and likes to live the high life – fancy cars, fancy clothes, beyond-top-of-the-range accommodation, fine dining and the most expensive drinks (Dom Perignon, anyone?). Ultimately, all of this is paid for by British taxpayers and in this Austerity Age that’s even more insulting. Why is the Chancellor of the Exchequer not coming down hard on MI6 and forcing 007 to fly on budget airlines, stay in B&Bs and survive on fast food like the rest of us?
Speaking of debauchery, it’s high time we got to the most hateful aspect of the Bond mythology – the misogyny and the flagrant sexism innate within this film series. “Strong female characters” have surfaced and kicked some ass on occasion but it just isn’t enough to make up for the fact that this franchise is predominantly a patriarchal powertrip that puts down women. Over the course of his screen adventures, 007 has slept with approximately 55 women (again, that figure doesn’t account for Spectre and all his off-screen bedroom action). If 007 was a woman himself (or herself), (s)he’d be labelled as a slut, a ho (or whore) or an easy floozy.
As it is, Bond being a male, he’s tacitly hailed as a masculine über-hero and his sexual prowess plays into a persona that we are meant to hold in high regard. Sadly for the secret agent and his private parts, though, I really don’t. For a start, I’m worried about the hygienic and medical implications of all his sleeping around.
Most likely, the man is a walking – or free-running, skiing or Little Nellie-piloting – collection of STDs and he probably has a whole catalogue of bastard children. Said bastard children will probably have inherited a lot of health problems and psychological issues from the father they’ll never know. Plus, they’ll never see a childcare cheque (and if they did it’d be coming out of the pockets of British taxpayers).
But back to the Bond girls who are the unfortunate victims of this man’s (not really) amorous attentions. Most of the time 007 picks up ladies, has sex with them and then tosses them aside. Perhaps this emotionally damaged man’s womanising and commitment-phobia is partly down the death his wife Tracy. Perhaps he’s actually a champion of safe sex and we don’t actually see his sensitivity in the final edited films.
Or perhaps 007 is just a self-entitled git who uses women for his own selfish purposes and then discards them like a callous, heartless bastard. His selfish purposes are either ego, the mission or the wish to alleviate boredom. Bond is at his cruellest when he’s seducing schematically for the job – to either wind-up the villain or acquire intelligence or an artefact as instructed by M (the MI6 chief has pimped out 007 on several inauspicious occasions).
Think of Pussy Galore (Goldfinger), Domino (Thunderball) and Corinne Dufour (Moonraker) as a select sample of Bond girls exploited in this manner. The most upsetting of all is Solitaire of Live And Let Die – she not only lost her virginity to this international superslut who sought primarily to annoy her boss by conquering her, Solitaire also lost her prophetic powers and Tarot card skills with it. For shame, James. For shame.
The only exceptions – the only women that 007 shows any apparent care and genuine love for – are the aforementioned Tracy (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and Vesper Lynd of Casino Royale. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond seems to show some remorseful feeling for Paris Carver (Tomorrow Never Dies) and Elektra King (The World Is Not Enough) but it doesn’t counterweigh a clear imbalance.
Take note of the narrowness of the Bond girl type and you realize that this franchise is not only perpetuating a particular set of standards relating to beauty and desirability but also heteronormativity (if seduction is part of 007’s modus operandi, surely he’d be more effective an agent if he were bisexual). Altogether, ideologically our hero is a mess and he represents a repressive and regressive fixed idea of masculinity while simultaneously standing as something politically suspect.
I could go on to ramble through all else that’s cringeworthy and crass – moments of casual racism, his excessive product placement, naff uncle moments, the bit where he dressed as a clown – but you already get the gist. Max Williams’ look-back series for this website has done a fantastic job of covering the good, the bad and the ugly of each Bond flick in great detail and I recommend giving each article a read if you haven’t already done so.
As for myself, once upon a time I got really, really bored and did my own mental retrospective look back across the entire oeuvre to date (I was working as an exam invigilator. You need something to keep your mind busy for three hours, okay?). I spent several slow hours recalling each 007 movie and working out every single point where James Bond could have died and then imagining that it happened. It was a lot of fun – like Edge Of Tomorrow with the satisfaction of seeing 007 get castrated by a laser, chewed up by alligators and squeezed to death between Xenia Onatopp’s thighs.
Yes indeed, I do not like this character, but yet I love this film series and have such great affection for it. To try and understand this, I’m best off barrelling back through time to childhood because that’s where I made a connection to this espionage enterprise. It’s true, in fact, that I was raised on these movies and I appreciate that that may make my antipathy towards their star even odder.
As a kid I loved the globetrotting international adventure aspect. The spy stuff was fun and the action was exhilarating. Q Branch’s ingenious gadgets were cool and, even though I wasn’t fussed about cars, the chases were at least entertaining. The Bond girls are of zero interest when you’re a preteen untouched by sexual awareness (I was so naïve and those double entendres meant nothing at all).
The aspect of the familiar formula that stands out and that really appealed to me, though, was the villains. I’ve always known that the bad guys are the best part of the 007 experience and the reason I kept rewatching the movies and will continue to eagerly run to the cinema each time a new Bond flick drops. I want to see the megalomaniacs, the sophisticated terrorists, the henchpersons and the thugs. I like those guys, and Bond is their nemesis and Bond inevitably beats and kills them so that further colors my feelings about the 00-agent.
I sympathised and, in many cases, supported the eccentric and deformed dreamers and outcasts who represented “the other” and opposed the established order. For all his jetsetting, sex and spy skills, James Bond is pretty boring. He’s a bloke in a dinner suit, doing a dubious job and he has little-to-no heart. The villains, however, have personality, imagination, creative flair and soul.
It’s true that a 007 movie is only truly as good as its baddies. Think of the best Bonds – From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live And Let Die, GoldenEye – and you’ll see that they’re replete with a colourful collection of villains. Conversely, the forgettable franchise instalments are entirely lacking on the antagonist front (see Quantum Of Solace).
I’m optimistic that with Spectre re-introducing the ultimate villainous outfit and flaunting the immense Christoph Waltz as nemesis, the new film will deliver what I crave. As for Bond, recent releases have made him a more human character – Dalton, Brosnan and Craig are relatively relatable – but it still hasn’t altered my overriding opinion.
007 is a tool. He is an unlikeable character and he’s pretty unappealing and uninteresting when you step back and survey the whole picture. What’s more, his role in the movies and in reality is to function as a fist for the establishment, re-enforcing regressive mainstream values while thumping what may nebulously be perceived as “the other.”
I don’t think that geeks should be getting behind people like that. We should be cheering on the “freaks” and “weirdos” who want to smash the system and kill the bad man from MI6 who keeps on thwarting them. Oh, James. I’m so sorry but I just don’t like you and I hope that one of these days they finally succeed.