While the new BBC television series The Man Who Would Be Bond tries to sell us on the idea that Ian Fleming (the creator of Bond,) was himself a proto-James Bond, I thought it time to reflect on who James Bond really is. In this very important lesson, I am going to only brush mention of the literary Bond – that is the Bond that lives in books written by Fleming and others – because the Bond that lives in popular culture is on the movie screen. Consider what comes to your mind when you think of space exploration, rags-to-riches stories, spies, the mafia, or JFK’s assassination. Movies are as real as life gets.
While there have been six actors to portray James Bond in the movies, there have only been three distinct Bond lives so far.
It would be safe to say that the first James Bond, whom I refer to as the “Classic Bond”, started operating in the late 1950’s. We see his on screen missions from 1962-1985.
Bond #1: Sean Connery/Roger Moore/George Lazenby – Coldwar – The Classic Bond
Classic Bond, played by Sean Connery and Roger Moore, is the Cold War Era James Bond. (The aberrant appearance of a certain George Lazenby occurred when footage of an unknown stand-in was all that could be used after production budget ran too high for the producers to hire an actor to play Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) This Bond is just as likely to slap a woman in the ass or in the face as he is to plow a suped-up sports car through a crowded exotic marketplace. He is the Bond that Ian Fleming created. Though initially unhappy with Connery’s casting, Fleming even went so far as to write Bond’s upbringing was in Scotland after his approval of Sean Connery’s portrayal of 007.
Along with Moore and Connery’s similar age, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Bond’s bride dies), Diamonds are Forever (Bond seeks out Blofeld in revenge of his bride), and Live and Let Die (Bond visits his bride’s grave), establish that without a doubt this Bond is one man. (Agent Triple X also references Bond’s marriage in The Spy Who Loved Me). This Bond has same Miss Moneypenny (Louis Maxwell) and the same Q (Desmond Llyelyns’ Major Boothroyd). While it’s obvious that Moore and Connery have very different personas for the character, the man being played is nonetheless the same character.
The Classic Bond (aka Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) is a horndog and even though he is as old now as your grandfather or even great grandfather, you love him for it. If Ursula Andress isn’t available, he’ll bang anything that moves, including Grace Jones. Ian Fleming’s Bond was an upper class sophisticate and Moore was closer to him in that way. Fleming’s Bond was also a killer and Connery might have been closer to him in that way. Sometimes he drinks dry martinis and sometimes not, but he’s always likely to crack a joke at the demise of his enemies. Classic Bond’s whimsical world is where Plenty O Tool, Pussy Galore, and Octopussy reside. His enemies, like Oddjob, Jaws, and Knick Knack can have a somewhat cartoonish quality about them. John Barry orchestrates his adventures, and Remy Julienne drives his car.
He uses gadgets and usually lots of them.
If there is such thing as a “real” movie James Bond, it’s Classic Bond. Most of his adventures are taken from Ian Fleming’s original books or at least the titles of the original books.
Classic Bond never had to prove himself to become a double-0. He was born with a license to kill at and was never a child. Maybe that’s why the Classic Bond has had more fun than any man in history.
By The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, movie critic Roger Ebert was already referring to James Bond as an anachronism. His seemingly dated masculinity in the wake of the feminist movement and cooling Soviet tensions at the time make him out of synch in his time in the eyes of some.
Classic Bond probably died partying like it was 1999 and saved us all one last time by stopping the Y2K bug from destroying the world as we know it. At his “retirement” his license to kill was made irrevocable for life by the Queen.
Bond #2: Timothy Dalton/Pierce Brosnan – The Politically Correct Age
Bond Number 2 does not have the distinction of Classic Bond or the Bond I will later refer to as “Modern Bond”. Bond Number 2 wants to be Classic Bond but knows he is not. He lives in the shadow of the Classic Bond. As Pierce Brosnan said, “Sean [Sean Connery] was brilliant, he played it dead on the money. And Roger [Roger Moore] really made it his own and went for the laughs. I think those two were the best.” Right is Brosnan to admire his predecessors.
Bond Number 2 probably started operating in the early 1980’s and we see him on screen from 1987-2002.
While Timothy Dalton began this incarnation, Pierce Brosnan was the first choice at the time. (Technically, Bond producers thought of Dalton too long before he felt he was old enough for the role.) Though Brosnan couldn’t get out of his television contract from Remington Steele to play the character in the movies, he started by playing him in a commercial for Visa in 1987 when The Living Daylights hit theaters and a full 8 years before Goldeneye. Bond #2’s characteristics are similar to Classic Bond except in some ways that are not good. He experiments with political correctness, with monogamy, with being emasculated by an old woman who’s become M (Goldeneye), and by not laughing in Denise Richards’ face when she says she’s a nuclear physicist.
With M’s reference in Goldeneye to Bond being a “relic of the cold war” Bond #2 carries the history of Classic Bond like an aura left over from a past life, but he is not Classic Bond. Yes, he beds lots of women, but that’s just because that’s what James Bond is supposed to do.
Theoretically Bond #2 could have been younger contemporary of Classic Bond in Classic Bond’s later days. He could have been Classic Bond’s nephew or a younger agent who learned from Classic Bond how to take up the James Bond mantel.
As great as Pierce Brosnan was as Bond (pretty great), Bond #2 is an imitation of Bond #1
No one knows what became of Bond #2. He seems to have been erased from history, but he could still working in deep cover.
Bond #3 Daniel Craig: The Modern Bond in Age of Terrorism
Daniel Craig’s Bond is the Modern Bond. The Modern Bond character is as much of a re-imagination of James Bond as we’ve seen.
It is often argued that Bond’s thuggish nature is exemplarily portrayed by Daniel Craig, with Ian Fleming’s description of Bond’s” almost cruel” eyes. He’s the most realistic Bond, even if he isn’t the real Bond. As good as Daniel Craig is in the role, Bond #3 is not Ian Fleming’s Bond because he lives in a different age and has characteristics different from Classic Bond.
Modern Bond does not operate a world in which the Soviet Union is a superpower or an arch enemy. In fact, he’s not by nature suave and sophisticated. He has to grow into having those qualities – a sort of side of effect of the high stakes world in he operates. While Skyfall repeatedly asks if Bond is still relevant to his age, it answers with resounding “HELL YEAH”. It’s not because of a Soviet threat, or S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or S.M.E.R.S.H., but of the ever present threat of international terrorism. Craig’s Modern Bond is both more human (he cries, his actions are motivated) and non-human. His ruthlessness makes him less human. And while he may be more believable as amoral spy, unfortunately, you’ll forget his theme songs.
He doesn’t smoke. He drinks beer. He’s blond. He’s a brutish thug who doesn’t have the sophistication or nearly as much fun as Classic Bond. Unlike Bond #2, Modern Bond is his own man and does not live in the shadow of Classic Bond. In Modern Bond’s world, Classic Bond never existed. And just like his character, Daniel Craig, the actor who breathes life into Modern Bond seems to want to remake Bond into his alone: “I never liked Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan much.” [Entertainment Weekly 2011].
Aside from Casino Royale (retooled for a new century), none of his adventures are from Ian Fleming’s books. The world of James Bond has been reinvented for Modern Bond to exist in. Modern Bond is motivated by actual and a personal history that makes him do what he does. An orphan, Judi Dench’s M is his adopted mother. Modern Bond’s Moneypenny and Q are his adopted kids.
While previous Bond’s were playboys, Modern Bond is an animal that feeds between hunts. Modern Bond beds a good number of women because he’s an alpha male, not because he’s the coolest shit around like Bond #1 or even Bond #2. And that’s a shame because even alpha males need someone to look up to for inspiration. Perhaps Daniel Craig knows that and knows he’s not that fantasy ideal. Still, he’s a damn good actor (Roger Moore in Bond on Bond says he is “certainly the best actor to play Bond”. He confirmed this again on an MSNBC interview.). Nevertheless, Daniel Craig simply doesn’t have the charisma of Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan and thus Modern Bond is a little less thrilling. To his credit, Daniel Craig’s Modern Bond character will have the distinction of standing alone as his own as his own creation. After Daniel Craig hangs up his gun, no one else will play James Bond Version 3.0.
The James Bond of the Future will be Bond #4.
So long as there are movie studios, James Bond will live. In fact, the James Bond franchise will be one of the last to go the way of the dinosaur blockbuster movie franchises of future yore.
The James Bond of the future will be the fourth life of James Bond in the movies. For the filmmaking team, the last remnants of the old guard will pass on and “new blood” will be needed. Bond Producers will lose the wisdom of what made the franchise successful and need something “fresh”. They will invent James Bond 4.0, whom I shall call “Bionic Bond”.
The series will begin with an actor who is a pale imitation of a previous Bond. Daniel Craig or Sean Connery will partially serve as the model for the new actor’s portrayal. The other part of the character’s “reinvigoration” will be invented by a room full of hairbrain movie studio suits.
Whether played by one actor or multiple actors, the fourth incarnation of James Bond will be the last movie James Bond, albeit one we barely recognize. This James Bond will be part man, part machine. It’s where we are all going anyway. The de-evolution already began with Skyfall ,the first James Bond movie to be shot in digital rather than film (it shows and not for the better). In the post Dexter era (a television show that glorifies a serial killer), audiences will demand an all out nihilist Bond, one with no moral center at all. An all-out psychopath who finds creative ways to brutally kill his enemies will be the only way to satiate the viewing public’s ever increasing bloodlust. In much the same way Taxi Driver’s psychotic is made into a hero by the media at the end, so shall be Berserker Bond . It took fifty years to see Bond go on a drunken binge in Skyfall, but that’s just the tip of the ice berg. Bond #4 will slam down hard drugs. It will be part of the mission. All for country, of course. We’ll love his twitching and drunken escapades and abuse of power much as we enjoy the shenanigans of The Bad Lieutenant.
The world will not be enough for Bionic Bond. If you thought Moonraker or Die Another Day went too sci-fi for you, then watch out. His enemies will be computer hackers, cult leaders, and cloned super-villains like G.I. Joe’s Serpentor. A previous James Bond actor (probably Pierce Brosnan) will be brought out of cryogenic state to play a villain with a special knowledge of Bond’s weaknesses.
There will be a return to gadgets far more than ever before. The 1965 Aston Martin D5 will be brought back again, but this time converted into a flying vehicle with vertical take off much like Back to the Future’s Deloreon. Q Branch will implant Bond with a microchip in his brain that will interact with the self operating flying car which has been outfitted with artificial intelligence. (No credit will be given to the writers of Knightrider 2000) Bond will use a hologram of himself to conduct a meeting with his arch nemesis. He’ll have a real life avatar who teams up with avatars with the faces of past James Bond actors in their prime. Like the return of the 1965 Aston Martin in Skyfall, this will blow the minds and wet the pants of Bond fans everywhere. A bad Bond girl will use gadgets of her own on Bond, but in a way we haven’t seen before.
Bond will be a premier computer hacker. He will bang “cyberpunk” girls that will look like the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (the hot Swedish one, not the American one). He’ll wear an Iron Man-like suit and will become embedded with terrorists, even taking part in terrorist activities temporarily for the utilitarian purpose of a greater good. Bond will be ambiguous. If Skyfall is any harbinger, he’ll probably kiss a man. If Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond does not do it, James Bond will die in one movie, an idea originally discussed by Pierce Brosnan. In the next episode, Bond will be resurrected with the cloning machine he captured from the first. The poster from the post-Bond Sean Connery film Zardoz will be briefly seen in a background shot. A woman that can grow a gold exoskeleton like Colossus from X-Men will battle Bond. And Bond will scale buildings with robo-hands a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Bond will be forced to improvise hack a “vintage” Google Glass headset to gather metadata on a nemesis’ past.
He may use biotechnology to transform himself into a woman and back to seduce men as well as women when he’s in a bind. Though some critics will deride “Double-D 007”, the viewing public will not be phased. Another device will allow him to constantly alter his appearance a la A Scanner Darkly.
James Bond will exchange his “antique” Walther PPK for an exotic “giga gat” from Q branch which uses ion radiation to temporarily paralyze baddies. It will also have higher setting which blows them into another dimension where other alternate universe versions of James Bond would have to deal with them.
Other unsettling developments will come. CGI will not take the place of most location filming, but CGI will be ever-present the film. By 2030, an outlandish location will be an above water city that hasn’t fallen from the earth’s rising oceans. MI-6 will not be referred to as Her Majesty’s Secret Service since the Queen of England will be no more. In her place will be King Charles who is such a national embarrassment to England that his existence will be completely ignored by the new series. There will be an attempt to create some “realism” by acknowledging Bond’s age. For the first time, James Bond will battle erectile dysfunction with Mega Viagra (with product placement by Pfizer) that allows James Bond to save the day by nailing a bad Bond girl so long and hard that she forgets to light the fuse that would otherwise blow up the world. After Bond orders “Pussy Galore” from a fondue menu, the franchise, out of ways to reference itself, will reference previous references to itself.
By the Bond film Go Ahead, Kill Me, the classic action-driven opening will be replaced by more character driven moments and ironic surprises. In one, Bond will learn that the bodacious Bond Girl he just banged is merely an avatar of a ninety year old drooling shriveled woman amputated at the legs to conserve energy for her permanent coma and integration into the Net. He won’t care. He will unplug the woman without regret. Bond will be forced to use the moves he’s learned over the years to master a pornographic video game interface which acts an entry way into sensitive data. Bond writers will battle over the decision to reveal Bond’s illegitimate son to be an awkward Manga-loving geek or a troubled youth involved with jihad against the West. By then our civilization will be so far beyond hope that the future youth will think these developments are a great idea.
Farther into the future , when movie-making is as quaint as a hand-tinted photograph, James Bond will be a fully immerssed interactive experience with a device that implants directly into your cerebral cortex. In “Choose Your Bond” Mode, you will be able to select your appearance from any of the previous James Bond actors (including Woody Allen as Bond nephew Jimmy Bond) along with hundreds of other artist renditions. A user built mod by a progressively- minded programmer will give you “Esteem Booster Mode” which allows you to actually look like yourself. The game company will sue its players for “copyright infringement” for inserting their own likeness into their original work. You will be James Bond and you’ll fantasize of shagging Bond girls and performing harrowing feats to save the world. Mostly you’ll fantasize of shagging Bond girls. Your real life robotic servants will observe you humping your living room furniture and that may trigger alarms, lest you come out of it. An epidemic will arise from those that mistake reality for being in the game and plunge to their deaths hoping buildings and trains. The “Frankenbond” mod will blend the faces of previous Bonds into one and look startlingly like The Tall Man from Phantasm. In another game mod, Bond will contract a fatal STD and must track down an international criminal to cure him within forty-eight hours so he can seduce a beautiful North Korean spy who goes by the name “Kim Chee”. The holders of the James Bond franchise will sue the designer of the mod for “damaging the James Bond brand which among other things includes non-consequential sex”.
Be grateful you live in the age of the Daniel Craig Bond, for after he leaves the tux behind, the James Bond we know will not return.