James Bond has been a pillar of British cinema for over half a century, now with the release of the newest installment to the franchise, Spectre, we have a golden opportunity to reflect upon the last fifty years and see where the ideology of 007 rests in modern day Britain today.
This question of where a 007 agent belongs in modern Britain is a prominent theme within the new Bond film. The focus on the omnipotent power of technological intelligence compared to the obsolete espionage of the double O agents runs through the very heart of the story. In a world where government agencies have electronic eyes everywhere, where drones are used to gather intelligence instead of people, where does that leave a redundant, philandering, and misogynistic spy from the 1960s?
It is within these vices that the character of James Bond finds both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. It is his roguish old-fashioned rebelliousness that gets Bond into trouble and also out of it again. The human quality that rejects the reliance on the system, always without fail, protects Bond from being defeated by it. This is why the double O agent will always be superior to any drone plane or surveillance network because of his determined human nature.
The natural talents he possesses also enhance his ability to extract information that would be impossible for a machine. Bonds overt attraction and magnetic charm are fundamentally defining characteristics that have helped him glean classified information from the opposite sex ever since Sean Connery’s portrayal back in 1962. His relationship with women is one of fleeting romance and disposable seduction. Even though this still holds true in Spectre, there have been subtle changes to the character that have given woman a more prominent role ever since the arrival of Daniel Craig in “Casino Royale”.
One of the key features of Spectre is the connection it shares with the passed three films in the franchise. The building plotline that runs throughout these films is wholly connected to Bond’s relationship with the women he has loved and lost. Firstly, the loss of Vesper Lynd, Bond’s first love, then the tragic assassination of Judi Dench in her portrayal of M in “Skyfall”. These iconic female figures in the life of James Bond have given the character an extra hidden depth, which may have been lacking in previous reincarnations.
Love and death seem to follow Bond wherever he goes and even more so in “Spectre”. Here, however, death itself has become the aphrodisiac. The inversion has gone so far that it is no longer believable; the plausible reality that a man who kills everyone around him becomes instantly attractive must surely be a fallacy. This seduction technique of death is demonstrated at least twice in “Spectre”, where the Bond girl is uncharacteristically turned on by James’ brutal murders and then quite comically obliges him in gratuitous sex. Although not before conveniently giving him all the information he requires. This comedic cavalier behaviour harks back to the days of Roger Moore and even Sean Connery’s era, so fans of the films will be happy to know that Bonds exploits are not going on without a few laughs. Sadly this is where the pitfalls in the film begin to show themselves.
The problem with Spectre is that it is constantly looking back. It is constantly trying to capture the essence of an age that is long gone. And like we all fear now, in the age of information, the machine has finally become self-aware. The franchise has become so aware of its self that it has become a parody of a parody. Similar to David Niven’s “Casino Royale” back in 1967 or the farcical escapades of Mike Myers in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” the British secret agent has become a bit of an old joke and the reinvigoration of Bond with Daniel Craig has finally worn off.
The sense of warped repetition and hackneyed déjà vu leaves this viewer slightly nonplussed at the films obvious reference to itself. The constant trope of villain stereotyping goes even further back in its reference of yester year Bond sentimentality. We have the abnormally strong but silent henchman that possesses little personality, almost certainly a carbon copy of the “Odd-job” character from “Goldfinger”. Also the highly anticipated role of Christoph Waltz as the silhouetted leader of the villainous Spectre felt quite anti-climactic considering the slow build up to this characters unveiling. The pure magic of Waltz’s performances in the recent Tarantino films, which gifted him two Oscars, has been truly phenomenal, magnetic and terrifying. These qualities, however, were totally lacking in “Spectre” with Waltz coming off as simply a camp and vindictive sociopath. The big reveal, which Waltz clearly states in the trailer, “It was me James, the author of all your pain”, feels like less of a plot twist and more like a lazy way for the writers to tie up all the previous films in a pretty bow, as a bon voyage to Daniel Craig’s career as James Bond.
Perhaps this is not any fault of the actor but of the character being portrayed. The lack of any exciting reinvention of the Bond villain or any deeper development of the role is partly due to a weak storyline and poor script. It is always difficult to resurrect such an iconic character especially when another actor has played the role so brilliantly, yet the characters motivation in “Spectre” was simply laughable, which made Waltz’s role lack all believability or gravitas.
Even so this film does not come without a good sense of enjoyment. Although the film has its flaws it still maintains everything you would expect from a typical James Bond movie. There are classic car chases galore and plenty of boy’s toys, gadgets, and explosions that would keep even Lewis Hamilton happy. The bond girls are exceptionally beautiful, intelligent and deadly, regardless of their age (Monica Bellucci). There’s also a good sense of comedy within the script as well, especially between Bond and his new superiors. The acerbic innuendos between Bond, M and the new joint Intelligence leader, known as C, cut very close to the mark and brought the loudest laughs in the cinema. There's also no lack of flirtatious remarks and word play between Bond and his new female counterpart, played excellently by the French actress Lea Seydoux, which shows us that Bond still has his suave and sophisticated humour that we all love and cherish. Regardless of all his criticism Daniel Craig has grown into the role superbly and despite the rumours of his pending departure I truly hope he will stay on for one more Martini. Shaken OR stirred.
To sum up, the question of whether James Bond is currently relevant in a modern technological Britain is still open to interpretation. Modern technology is a double-edged sword. It is equally capable of inflicting damage upon its self and those who wield it then on its intended victims. Similar to Silva’s hacking program seen in “Skyfall” and Qs smart blood protocol in “Spectre”, the focus on modern technology’s ability to track and monitor Bond’s every movement becomes the very thing that impedes MI6 from supporting their agent in the field. It is only when we reject our perceptions of technological surveillance as a form of security that we see it for the weapon that it really is. When reliance on technology becomes dependence that is when the enemy truly wins and the real villain is finally revealed. So if the icon of James Bond can still stand strong as a figure of Independent rebelliousness for another fifty years then I think he will always be needed to fight for Britain.