So Skyfall has just been released, coming in as the 25th James Bond movie and expecting to make, as is traditional, the official measurement of an ass-tonne of money. What’s your secret, people may ask the Bond directors as they look adoringly up at them, sitting on their Roman lounges fashioned entirely out of 100 dollar bills? The secret is the secret agent, who is in fact not so secretive, as his name doesn’t even need to be attached or emblazoned on any of the products for them to be devoured by the public.
People love a James Bond movie. Myself, I haven’t watched that many in their entirety: for me, 007 exists in prime time movies on commercial TV, glimpsed but never quite grabbing me. My parents, diligently overseeing my television experience and training me in the eloquent art of channel surfing and belittling department store ads, would always make note that it was a cultural phenomenon. I don’t remember much from these younger evenings, except a lot of swanky cars and pretty ladies, horror at the abject pointiness of 1960s swimsuits and bras, and a sense of unending confusion at how the lead character seemed to be played by a new man every time I looked.
The Bond movies have somehow struck the right chord in the hearts of the viewers to be able to get them to willingly suspend their disbelief far enough to accept that every few films James Bond gets a new face. The same logic as Doctor Who, though that makes much more sense in the context of the story. In any case, it’s worked magic on the series and is what has enabled it to go on for half a century.
We’ve ranged from Shexy Sean Connery in the Shixties (see what I did there?), George Lazenby for a singular film in 1969, Roger Moore over the Seventies and early Eighties, Timothy Dalton for a brief stint over the rest of the Eighties, followed by Pierce Brosnan over the Nineties and then the current face of the martini-loving spy, Daniel Craig, who went first back into prequel territory and then set the franchise flying for the Noughties and beyond.
There have been games, too, since the 1980s ranging from 8-bit platform adventures on the Atari system to the shiny, high definition first person shooters of today. We’ve seen countless cool gadgets, sweet guns, sophisticated cars, bitter foreign villains, attractive ladies to fall into Bond’s bed and so, so many martinis. You’d think there wouldn’t be any time for serving Her Majesty’s Secret Service with all the shagging and cocktail sipping going on, but 007 is a man of many talents.
And what’s wrong with having a bit of a booze and a squeeze while you’re on the job, anyway? If James Bond is anything, he’s a hero of escapist fiction. Who doesn’t want to read about wild adventures in faraway lands and mysterious cities, taking out baddies and saving the free world all while being sophisticated, roguish, talented, and able to literally charm the pants of the most glamorous women the world has to offer?
As The Supersizers point out, even James Bond’s dining experience was escapism. The first book, Casino Royale, was released to the war-stressed, slowly recovering Britain of the 1950s, and just reading about Bond going across the channel to France was exciting, since travel was so limited. Since the very beginning, he was a symbol of everything that regular men wanted but couldn’t have.
He was also a symbol of everything that was great about Britain, a hero making his mark on the world with the honour of Her Majesty at his back. Hell, Daniel Craig even escorted the Queen at the Olympics as Bond. That’s how ingrained in their culture he is. The cute thing is, she’s the same monarch that he was serving under in the 1950s. She’s aged, but he hasn’t. Such is the magic of fiction.
Much like Britain’s Captain America but with a nicer suit, Bond was out there quashing the worries of those who fretted over the Cold War and the possibility of atomic bombs and other generalised foreign nasties. He was a beacon of hope and happiness, bursting with masculinity and heroism that would always sweep the damsels in distress of the world off their feet and carry them safely home, enemies defeated with all their terrifying sci-fi technology.
And so it is that James Bond has anchored himself in pop culture, with one-liners sticking in the vernacular and parodies becoming a genre all of their own. The Bond series revolutionised the spy thriller genre, and some might say created it, and in turn led to a wave of lookalikes trying to capitalise on the popularity of the suave super spy. In turn, of course, we also got the film series that make fun of the character type, giving us the likes of Inspector Clouseau, Austin Powers and Johnny English, all poking fun at the competent, svelte and smooth secret agent. When it’s being parodied in mainstream media, you know it’s really up there.
It has lovely ladies, cool explosions, sweet cars, badass guns, and a hero who can keep the world safe for us while we read or watch him, sitting in the comfort of our own homes.
Where would we be without Bond? Who can even guess? Audiences have been escaping into the world that Ian Fleming created for more than half a century, and love or hate the text itself you have to admit that that’s a pretty big achievement.
Signing off is Afictionado… The Afictionado.
Nah. Doesn’t quite work. Oh well.