I must confess that I’ve never really got James Bond, even before I understood that the movies were passé, predictable and paleolithic. I can see the films had a certain 1960s appeal, a throwback to a time when men were men and women were spray-painted gold and left to suffocate.
Even in the 1970s, they were already long, shallow and devoid of storyline. They were a few iconic bars of a soundtrack; “Bond, James Bond”; “shaken, not stirred” and any number of other self-reverential clichés. As a child, I somehow could never muster the sense of anticipation a new Bond film was supposed to engender, even in an era when fine food, fast cars and fast women were not widely available — well, not to me anyway.
It was not as if my life was one long cavalcade of Bond-like sophistication. Fine dining was the Angus Steakhouse in Wembley Hill, where the wine waiters wore burgundy blazers and served a very palatable Tafelwein. A fast car was my mate’s Capri and, as for fast women, well, perhaps I should have worn more Denim aftershave.
So the sight of Daniel Craig posing with a bevy of Bond beauties to promote the latest movie would not ordinarily have set me aquiver with anticipation. But then I read the news that this was going to be a Bond film for the #MeToo era and now, frankly, I’m interested. The presence of Fleabag and Killing Eve writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge only adds to the sense of excitement.
Even so, you have to wonder what a Bond stripped of misogyny and casual violence brings to the party. “The name’s Bond, James Bond, and this is my assistant Susan, who will be accompanying me on all private conversations with the ladies so you can be sure I won’t try to force myself on you in the way that we both know you want. Barman, I’d like a decaf latte, frothed not foamed — oh, and hang on, I’ve got a loyalty card.”
I’m sure Waller-Bridge can do something with him if she’s allowed to do more than pep up the dialogue of the female characters. Killing Eve’s Villanelle was a masterpiece in homicidal humour. It must be possible to construct an all-action hero, attractive to women, who doesn’t talk and stalk like the office perv at the Christmas party. Still it’s a challenge.
The Fleabag writer may start off thinking that perhaps the bad guy can be a sleazy film big shot who forces himself on beautiful women and discards them afterwards, and then she’ll remember, oh no, hang on — that’s the good guy.
On the other hand, a #MeToo Bond, a tongue-tied gent more in the mould of, say, Hugh Grant in Four Weddings, might be closer to something men like me can work with. It’s a more attainable, more metrosexual form of masculinity. “Now listen here Blofeld, in the immortal words of David Cassidy . . . no wait a minute, that’s not right.”
But there is a bigger problem. The entire notion of James Bond is clichéd and archaic. It’s not just the obvious issues such as attitudes to women, which, when you think about it, are not much better than the idea of icing prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto. Its vision of manly perfection no longer rings true. The Ian Fleming sense of sophistication is utterly outmoded.
Bond’s success was based in part on bumper budgets that delivered old-world glamour and over-engineered action. In their day they were the biggest show in town and so Bond was the pinnacle of sophistication. Now we know that Macau casinos are the height of kitsch not cool, no more the zenith of chic than the Burj Dubai is a World Heritage site. As for Eton, have you looked at parliament recently?
Some of the more recent films tried harder — Skyfall was not bad if you can pass over the treatment of one particular female character. But Bond has gone from being a recognisable and, I guess, aspirational stereotype to being little more than a cartoon character in an era of Marvel comic-book movies with which it cannot compete. For all the gadgetry, Bond is seriously analogue.
But perhaps Fleabag’s Waller-Bridge, who notably wrapped up her show after just two series, can bring the Bond franchise the one thing it really needs: a conclusion.
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