Feature by: Beth Gilligan
Posted on: 20 March 2005
Features: The Genealogy of James Bond
Every couple of years or so, a new James Bond film elbows its way into theaters. The hoopla surrounding these movies has become as predictable as the films themselves; all of a sudden, Pierce Brosnan’s handsome visage can be found everywhere, from print ads to Pepsi cans to magazine covers and talk shows. Accompanying (and – intentionally or not – part of) this media juggernaut is the inevitable spate of articles questioning Bond’s relevance in this day and age, and chronicling the challenges facing the film’s producers as they try to keep the series fresh. When it comes time for the critics to weigh in, most offer tempered praise, reasoning that anyone walking into a Bond flick knows exactly what they’re in for, and determining that the films more or less deliver this. So the audiences turn up in droves, ready to lap up whatever new gadgets and gorgeous women are on display, and the films rake in hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide.
There is, however, a portion of this cycle that remains largely unspoken: no one seems to care much for the Bond films anymore. Critics acknowledge the franchise has grown stale but offer half-hearted kudos anyway; audiences often admit disappointment but keep returning for more; actors being considered for the role of 007 publicly fret about typecasting but won’t rule out playing the world’s most famous secret agent.
I know of few women, including myself, who enjoy the films (according to the BBC, Bond audiences are usually divided 60-40 male to female); despite the best efforts of the producers to create stronger female characters, there remains a whiff of sexism around the franchise. The movies’ scarcity of anything resembling human emotion and their fixation on expensive gadgets may also account for this lack of enthusiasm. In an article that ran in The New York Times shortly after the release of The Return of the King, Caryn James addressed the disproportionate number of male fans for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, stating, “The well-calculated hype and exaggerated praise has obscured what the series really is: an FX extravaganza tailored to an adolescent male’s fear of sentiment and love of high-tech wizardry.” James may have been talking about hobbits, but it’s astonishing how easily her assessment can be applied to Mr. Bond.
This is not to suggest that women are averse to action movies in general – films like Spider-Man 2 and The Bourne Supremacy would never have reached the dizzying box office heights they did without bridging the gender divide, but in both cases, the hero is a complex, sympathetic character whose personal struggles add dimension to the challenges that lie before him. Even in Sean Connery’s capable hands, Bond’s personality was limited to saucy one-liners and a rather disarming ability to stay calm under the most intense circumstances. While this was amusing to watch the first few times, once the series settled into its set formula, it became increasingly dull. Part of the excitement surrounding the first two seasons of TV’s 24 was the willingness of the show’s producers to bump off the major characters; in a Bond film, the suspense is slackened considerably by the foreknowledge that MGM would never allow its main cash cow to bite the dust.
For that reason alone, it seems inevitable the cycle described above will continue. Pierce Brosnan is out, but the producers will undoubtedly find a fresh face to build a mountain of hype around. While a new Bond always suggests the possibility of a fresh start, given the series’ track record, that seems about as likely as 007 ordering a glass of Chardonnay.