[7 March 2006]
The photograph adorning the book cover depicts a handsome, cigarette-smoking, dashing figure: Ian Fleming. Creator and author of the James Bond book series, Fleming could very well have played Bond himself. Unbeknownst to him, the famous Etonian created one of the greatest literary and film heroes of our time: the swanky, well-dressed, womanizing and always valiant super agent James Bond. “Bond… James Bond” is perhaps the most famous three-letter phrase uttered in cinema history.
The multimillion-dollar Bond franchise has served as one of the most lucrative in film history: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan have all played the role of a lifetime, depicting the super hero as he battles various villains to save the Britain, the West, and humanity in general.
However, a recent upset in the world of Bondmania has left many fans reeling: the ever-popular Brosnan (often proclaimed as the “best Bond ever”) was unceremoniously dropped in favor of newcomer Daniel Craig. Currently in his early-50s, Brosnan was deemed too old by the films’ producers. Also, rumors circulated that Brosnan’s salary demands were over the top; hence, the decision to replace him with new and younger blood. The search for a replacement, which included talks with both famous actors and unknowns (Clive Owen was a worthy contender), eventually led the producers to Daniel Craig, who many fans have considered as not only “unattractive” but also, alas, a very un-Bond “blond”.
Indeed, the original Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell, who already played the role in numerous films (such as Goldfinger and Thunderball), openly declared that “He [Craig] isn’t as handsome as Roger and Sean…” and that he may need a wig. Many diehard Bond fans agree: Either Craig should dye his hair for the upcoming Casino Royale or step aside for a brunet (and a good-looking one at that) to take his place.
The popular Brosnan didn’t have any qualms about hiding his hurt feelings over being dumped. The actor, who scored a Golden Globe nomination for his role in The Matador, has said: “It allows me to tell the Bond producers, ‘get lost’ with the greatest pleasure.” (Actor News, 27 December 205)
So far, things have gone awry for Craig. He broke a few teeth while filming various fight scenes; he reportedly shocked Bond producers when he announced that he doesn’t have a license to drive the manual Aston Martin DB5; and now, Craig has to face his greatest fear: using handguns on the set. According to Australia’s EntertainmentNews.com, the actor has claimed: “I hate handguns. They are used to shoot people and as long as they are around, people will shoot each other. I’ve seen a bullet wound and it was a mess.” (”Live Another Day”, Justin Parker, 24 February 2006). All of this, alas, detracts from the tough-as-nails, debonair Bond image. How can Bond possibly not drive a manual, and fear handguns? Even though former Bonds, Roger Moore and Sean Connery, have called for support for Craig, the anti-Craig crusaders are always lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce: they have launched a website, craignotbond.com, where they lambaste the actor and have asked other diehard Bond fans to join them in boycotting Casino Royale. This is all, inevitably, music to Brosnan’s ears, who has told the Daily Star that should Craig fail in his Bond duties, “I would jump at it [playing Bond again].” After hearing about Craig’s on-set injuries, Brosnan also had some words of advice: “It’s all part and parcel of being Bond. I’m afraid Daniel will have to face more real-life injuries.” Ouch.
As the controversy over Craig continues to escalate, the question remains: Why are we so enthralled by the antics of a never-aging daredevil British super spy who is a ruthless killer, a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em womanizer, whose greatest pleasures derive from ordering martinis and playing with handguns and high-tech gadgets?
That he is a product of Britain immediately endears him to the British, but to dismiss James Bond as merely a British phenomenon clearly undermines his universal appeal. He is, without a doubt, the most recognized screen hero of all time. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Bond served as a lone defender against the ever-imposing threat of communism. The Cold War was in full swing, and who better than an invincible, ruthless Briton to beat the “bad guys” at their own game, and to uphold the values of the Western world? He embodied all things capitalistic and as many Bond scholars have argued, his character put Britain back on the map of popular consciousness during the critical time when the nation was still recovering from the aftermath of the Second World War. Indeed, Fleming introduced Bond just in time when Britons needed a strong, brave hero to feel as though “England was back on top again”. As James Chapman writes in Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007 (Indiana University Press, 2005):
Bond is a conservative hero, a defender of the realm, a staunch patriot and… an upholder of the monarchy… Bond is single-minded in hunting down enemies of his country.
Yet, despite how he is depicted in the films, so well-mannered and adept at any highbrow social situation, Chapman asserts that Bond is not a “true English gentleman” in that he is not a member of the upper class, nor does his sometimes “caddish” behavior represent the mannerisms of a true blue-blooded English gentleman. As Chapman argues: “Bond represents a significant shift away from the model of the English gentleman hero… The traditional English gentleman hero is typically characterized as decent, chivalrous, humorous, sporting… The adjective used most frequently to describe Bond is cruel. Bond may have some of the external trappings of a gentleman (he knows the right drinks and the right food), but quite often his behavior more closely resembles that of a cad…”
The “cad”, however, has established himself as one of the most beloved heroes (or, given his frequent violent behavior, he can also be considered an “anti-hero”) of cinema worldwide. Bond’s popularity especially soared during the “Swinging 60s” when moralities of yesteryears were questioned, and “having a good time” above duty and responsibility was de rigeur. Although, as many have argued, Bond is obviously a member of the Establishment (he works for the government), his extracurricular activities and let-loose ways fit in perfectly with the freewheeling values of the mid-to-late ‘60s. Bond drinks, enjoys one-night stands, and seems to have no regrets about his care-free ways. He is clearly a man of his times. Furthermore, from the Western perspective, anyway, he is invincible and always ‘right’. Invincibility and righteousness are characteristics which have made Bond scholars unanimously agree that most Bond fans either want to “be Bond or be with Bond” (attributed to Kingsley Amis).
Perhaps it is this exact sentiment that, by and large, male viewers want to be Bond and that female viewers want to be with Bond that has made his appeal “universal”. During the Cold War, Bond served as the perfect defender of Western righteousness and capitalism. After the Cold War ended, it became clear that the threat of the Soviet Empire may have diminished, but that potential danger still lurks in the background (for example, as with North Korea). In a post-9/11 world, the West craves its heroes, again. After 9/11, anything seems possible, and an invincible hero who can stop terrorism dead in its tracks no matter what shape or form it comes in is exactly what the doctor ordered for millions of ‘real world’ escapist moviegoers.
Another controversy surrounding the upcoming Casino Royale was based on media reports that the producers were having a difficult time finding their new Bond Girl. The so-called “curse of the Bond Girl” has been circulating for years: apparently, most of the actresses who take on roles opposite Bond enjoy lackluster careers thereafter. Even the Oscar-winning Halle Berry, who played Jinx in 2002’s Die Another Day hasn’t had any spectacular roles since starring opposite Pierce Brosnan.
The search has apparently now ended, as French actress Eva Green has agreed to star opposite Craig in Casino Royale. It’s ironic that the Bond Girl roles aren’t sought out by leading Hollywood actresses, given that Bond Girls are not only as beautiful as Bond is handsome, but also as strong, savvy, and often as ruthless as their leading man. Bond may always get the girl, but many of them often end up kicking his ass. Though the argument works both ways, many theories claim that Bond films have done more to empower women (onscreen, at least) than any other film series. Although Bond drifts from woman to woman fulfilling many a male fantasy of sexual promiscuity the films also make a point of depicting the “modern woman” who can dominate her man sexually and who also doesn’t mind her own brand of short-term, no-strings-attached flings.
Many Bond fans (particularly those of the anti-Craig variety) are anxiously curious to know whether Craig can prove himself successful as a romantic leading man opposite Eva Green in the upcoming film. The blond, short actor, who has never been cast as a romantic hero (aside from his role as Ted Hughes in Sylvia) has a lot to live up to in proving himself as convincing a womanizer as the tall, dark and handsome Connery and Brosnan.
James Bond’s most appealing allure, however, seems to be his complete steadfastness in beating the enemy and bringing about justice. He is determined, usually cool under pressure, and hell-bent on protecting what he believes is good for his country. What makes him most interesting to moviegoers and readers is his “license to kill” (Bond’s double-0 prefix allows him the freedom to kill). The audience, in a sense, often overlooks Bond’s abilities as a ruthless brute, and instead regards him as a just savior whose only option is to get rid of evil at any cost. The typical formula-good guy vs. bad guy-which is key to all the Bond films, speaks volumes about moviegoers’ tastes, who have been enamored of the onscreen 007 for more than 40 years.
Since Fleming’s first Bond book, (Casino Royale, 1953), Bond has slipped stealthily about in our imaginations for well over 50 years now. It doesn’t seem we’ll be rid of him anytime soon. Indeed, it seems unlikely that the series’ producers will ever knock off this timelessly enduring (not to mention lucrative) phenomenon. In this upcoming incarnation of the popular and daring super agent, Daniel Craig may have some sleek shoes to slip into as a reigning sex symbol and beloved hero, but even if he proves disappointing in the role, there will always be another actor waiting to take on the role of the famous super agent. As Shawn Levy put it in the Guardian (”Oh, James”, 13 Nov. 2002): “As long as there is an actor born somewhere in the Commonwealth who looks good holding a gun in formal wear… there will always, bless us, be a Bond.”
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/taghizadeh060308/