Bonds Aren’t Forever

Posted: April 9, 2015 in James Bond

As a big fan of James Bond I’ve meant to create a new category of Bond related content for a while, and with Spectre coming later this year I thought I’d write a few Bond related articles before (and likely after) I review the film come November.

I’d like to start with an intriguing question; once Daniel Craig hangs up his Walther PPK, will the 007 franchise continue down the gritty, more grounded path it’s trodden since 2006, or will it revert to a more fantastical, perhaps more light-hearted tone?

In essence will Bond #7 be of the Craig/Dalton variety, or more in keeping with Brosnan/Moore?

I suspect it will be the latter, and I believe there’s evidence to support that hypothesis.

Don’t get me wrong, after initially doubting Craig’s credentials he had me convinced from the pre-title sequence of Casino Royale and since then he’s only grown in my estimation to the point where he’s coming close to toppling Dalton as my favourite Bond.

That doesn’t mean I’ve always been overly happy with the Bourne’ness of Bond post Brosnan, and nor should it follow that I don’t have a lot of time for the camper side of 007. I’ve pretty much always said that I never met a Bond I didn’t like, which means I can enjoy a gritty thriller like Quantum of Solace one day, and Roger Moore in space with a “laser” the next.

But the truth is that for all that the franchise has lasted 50 years, and has seen off many pretenders to the throne in that time, the Bond films have rarely set trends since the 60s, and since Connery left (maybe even before then) the franchise has been more reactive than proactive, taking its lead from what’s successful at the time.

To begin with this wasn’t the case. When Bond burst onto the scene it was fresh and new and grabbed the cinema-going public by the scruff of the neck, and rather than Bond imitating others, there were instead a whole raft of secret agents born out of Fleming’s creation; quite literally in the case of Napoleon Solo from The Man from UNCLE, but there was also The Avengers, I Spy, Get Smart, Matt Helm, Derek Flint, Danger Man (yes McGoohan’s John Drake does technically predate Dr No, but interestingly the show was initially cancelled very early on to be reborn in a slightly different format once Bond mania was in full flow) and probably a whole heap of others.

Once Bond moved into the 70s however, things began to shift, and suddenly the films were imitating other movies around at the time, in some cases thematically, in others by borrowing recognisable tropes from particular kinds of films.

Take Roger Moore’s debut in 1973. Live and Let Die owes more than a passing debt to the Blaxploitation films of the early seventies, with its Harlem Pimp style villains. On a less obvious note it’s possible to see the influence of Clint Eastwood into the bargain, is it any coincidence that Bond’s trusty PPK is traded for a .44 Magnum when he gives his regards to Baron Samedi, given that Dirty Harry had come just two years earlier?

In 1974 came Moore’s second film, and again it’s difficult not to see parallels with another genre. Only this time rather than Blaxploitation it was the chopsocky genre Bond was pilfering from, or did you think it was coincidence, all those Kung-Fu moves just a year after Enter the Dragon?

And it goes on, The Spy Who Loved Me came along in 1977, two years after Spielberg scared us silly with a rubber shark, and suddenly not only does Bond have a new adversary called Jaws, but Jaws actually fights a shark at the end! How Meta is that? At the end of The Spy Who Loved Me we were advised that James Bond would return, in For Your Eyes Only, and yet FYO would be pushed back in favour of Moonraker and Bond having laser battles in space…it’s almost like some hugely successful space based film came out in 1977? It’ll come to me…

The desire to ape what’s popular hasn’t always succeeded. Flash forward to the late 80s and we get Licence to Kill, a harder edged, more violent thriller along the lines of popular American action films of the time like Lethal Weapon. LTK is good, but it didn’t do well at the box office and as such it was the last time we’d see Timothy Dalton in a dinner jacket, and it led to a long hiatus before Brosnan turned up and the films dialled back the grittiness a bit.

Of course the desire to ground Bond never went away, and despite the success of Die Another Day, the producers of the franchise decided it was time to retire Brosnan and also to retire the more outlandish elements of the franchise. It’s clear that, at least partially, this was due to the phenomenal success of Matt Damon’s Bourne films (amongst others but more on that later). Now frankly the only one I liked was the first one, and all that shaky camera work puts me right off, but they were successful, and given the producers has long wanted to do Bond’s origins they saw this as the ideal opportunity.

So Bond was back, only this time he didn’t have a laser in his watch, in fact this time he didn’t even have Q (initially). Once again Bond had taken the lead from other franchises, and this time it was a case of the right man at the right time (unlike Dalton who, people might say, was the right man at the wrong time, which isn’t necessarily an argument I wholeheartedly agree with, though it does have some merit.)
Of course with Skyfall the Craig/Bourne formula was softened slightly, we didn’t get hollowed out volcanos, but we did get Q and Moneypenny back, and the film was funnier whilst still retaining a down to earth grittiness, and for me Skyfall is the most enjoyable film Daniel Craig has done.

Hopefully Spectre will continue in a similar vein, but what about the next film (or the one after the next film if Craig does another) why am I so certain Bond #7 is more likely to be Brosnan rather than Dalton?

Well, simply put it comes down to the way the wind’s blowing in Hollywood right now. In the 2000s it was all about Bourne, and Christopher Nolan’s realistic reboot of Batman, which is another film franchise which seems to have had a big influence on Bond, whereas recently I’ve been sensing a shift away from down to earth and gritty, towards the fantastical and the camp.
For starters there are the Marvel films, snappy dialogue, high-tech gadgets and the fantastic are cool once more, but more specifically there are signs that the spy genre is reinventing itself, or more accurately cyclically returning to a previous format. A few months ago Kingsman: The Secret Service came out, and whilst it’s gentleman spy in the form of Harry Hart might owe more to John Steed than James Bond, it featured spies with machine gun umbrellas were fighting a villain who wanted to take over the world, and whilst the film’s laddish sensibilities and gore are a little at odds with Bond, Harry’s Hart’s comment that ‘spy films used to be a lot more fun’ was very telling.
In the summer we’ll be getting the long awaited Man from UNCLE film. So far all we have to go on is the trailer, but it suggests a light hearted period piece, very much in the vein of the original TV series, and in contrast to the current Bond tone.

Now these may be two exceptions, it may be that Kingsman and UNCLE are the only fun spy films we’re likely to see this side of 2020, but I feel people’s expectations are shifting, fun is in and grit is out.

Does that mean 007 will necessarily follow? Perhaps not, but given that the franchise’s longevity has been based, in part, on its willingness to adapt whilst retaining a winning formula, I wouldn’t bet against it. After all, each actor to play the part has done so differently to his immediate predecessor, so the notion that we’ll get someone who’s very similar to Daniel Craig playing Bond #7 seems a long shot.

What I do know for certain is that— whether the next Bond is Idris Elba playing a realistic spy, or some current unknown playing a suave secret agent with a nice line in double-entendres and exploding cufflinks—I’ll keep watching.

As I say, never met a Bond I’ve hated. Still though, much as I’m sure 007 #7 will be great, I’m kinda hoping Spectre won’t be Daniel Craig’s last hurrah.

Paul Starkey’s Bond articles will return…

  1. That is a really interesting take on it, and something I’d never considered. I’m very much looking forward to the Man from UNCLE film. (And really have to get round to seeing Kingsman!)

    I honestly think Idris, cool as he is, is now too old for Bond, though he’d have been perfect for it back when he was in Ultraviolet. Bond needs to be in his 30s. Not sure who I’d want in the role, though. Part of me’s thinking ‘Aidan Turner’ but that’s only to be sure of seeing MORE Aidan Turner.

    • starkers70 says:

      It’s a weird thing, I like Elba a lot (he was the best thing in Ultraviolet which, given everyone in it was fantastic is saying something) but I can’t quite see him as Bond. It isn’t even because he’s black, I have no problem with that and if anything I hoped they might go with Colin Salmon after Brosnan left. I think Elba would be too similar to Craig though, and you’re spot on, he’s too old. He’s 42 now, but even if Spectre is Daniel Craig’s last film it’s going to be a minimum of 2 years before the next film comes out, by which time Elba will be mid forties. It’s not impossible, but it would make him the oldest actor to debut as Bond since Roger Moore.

      I trust the producers though, I was very anti Craig when he was cast and he proved me utterly wrong so frankly they could cast a spotty 18 year old in the role and I’d reserve judgement until I saw him in action. 🙂

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