Bond. James Bond. That cold, focused professional with a licence to kill.
Only thing is, Bond hasn't been quite that way of late, has he? Now we have sensitive Bond. Grieving Bond. Feelings-hurt Bond.
And for some that is a problem. So maybe it's time to ask ourselves, just who James Bond really is? And which way do we prefer our favourite spy?
Crafting James Bond's destiny is a difficult enough task for the producers, whilst trying to cater for a changing audience over saturated by content – and giving us what we want, or gambling on giving is what they think we want.
But you will have noticed how Bond has changed. Now Bond is a character in ways that he never was before. He has depth. He has emotion, regret, love, guilt, and flaws just like the rest of us. James Bond has, for want of a better word, been humanised.
And how do we feel about that? Because surely, James Bond isn't like the rest of us. Doesn't he have to be more than that to give us the escapism?
Apart from a few hints here and there, very little was known about the character of James Bond himself, in the movies anyway. His history and backstory were rarely touched upon. He was the suave, cool professional, eager to accept the next mission for whichever globetrotting adventure awaited him.
George Lazenby gave us our first real “character moment” at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, when Bond's new wife, Tracy, is mercilessly gunned down in front of him. There was a hint of that bereavement again in the pre-title sequence of For Your Eyes Only, when Roger Moore's Bond visits Tracy's grave before being ambushed by Blofeld. But apart from that, there is very little that leads to the heart of who James Bond really is as a man.
And is that because “that's just how they made those films back then” or is it because the formula they hit upon had just the right balance to capture the audience's imagination?
And if so… why did that work?
It worked because we, the audience, became Bond. He was our way in because we were not hampered by who Bond was as a man. We were the ones taking the journey. Bond, back in the day at least, was a blank tableau, filled with the confidence that we, the audience, could embody as we watched the films. Sure there was the obligatory exposition scene in M's office, outlining the mission (for us, the audience), handing over the gadgets and then we were off on our jollies around the world.
But as for James Bond now? Well in the Daniel Craig era, certainly the last few films, we learned that Bond's parents died in a climbing accident, he was brought up by Franz Oberhauser's father, we got to see his old family home (Skyfall) saw him quit the spy game and settle down, albeit briefly, even learning he had a daughter. Oh yeah, he also got vaporised at the end of the last film. How's that for character development?
Bond movies evolved (there's that word again) from being spy/adventure films into being a film about Bond himself.
And is that so bad?
No Time To Die certainly had its detractors. One reason possibly being that unless the audience has had those particular tragedies to contend with in their life, it becomes harder to connect with it on the deeply personal levels that the filmmakers hope they will.
Whoa! But we care about Bond, you say. We care about his family. We care about his feelings. And if that is the case, you've just lived through a golden age of Bond.
But there will soon be a new James Bond. The producers are saying that they're taking their time and that work hasn't even begun on the next script.
That may be so… or maybe not. It's an immense task figuring out Bond's place in the world, as it is now. The political landscape is changing in ways we can only imagine, and dread. Just who Bond should go up against next time is a matter of debate.
All that aside, there must be some intense conversations going on, regarding how far Bond has been taken from the comfort zone. Because often these things are hard to roll back on. Connery had that coldness… but bucketloads of charm. Lazenby copied that – and didn't do half bad as it happens. Moore… Well that was the era of pastiche Bond, going for the gag, and nobody did it better.
Dalton certainly had the coldness. Brosnan had a little of all of them.
So where do we go next? Dial back to an older template… Or is there another, even more “humanised” Bond standing by to take us on the next adventure?