I am on the record as not being an especially big fan of the James Bond films. Today, however, I announce The De-Evolution of James Bond, a WeMinoredInFilm marathon where Julianne and I will take turns assessing a Bond film a day. We’re doing this in reverse chronological order, starting with the latest (Spectre) and ending at the beginning (Dr. No). Through the Daniel Craig era, Eon Productions has worked very hard to update the world’s most famous fictional spy for the 21sth century. As a bit of a lark, we’re going to happily undo all of that and follow the films back to their swinging 60s roots, most of which I’ll be watching for the first time.
But, why, though?
Because we desperately need a distraction right now. We can’t leave our homes other than to buy groceries, our leader just told us to drink bleach, we’re running out of meat, the phrase “biblical famine” was just uttered by the United Stations and not as a joke, and we’re always losing track of what day it is. Surreal is the new normal, and we don’t like it.
I get that, I do, but why Bond?
What better time than a pandemic for some escapist, globe-trotting adventures about a sexy, suave spy saving the world with a well-timed quip and clever gadget while also attracting more lovers than Wilt Chamberlain. Can’t travel? Every Bond film offers breathtaking visits to various exotic locales. Riddled with anxiety? Take comfort in the reliable formula of 25 different movies – including 1983’s “unofficial” Sean Connery swan song Never Say Never Again – that all follow the same basic outline. Miss popular music? Every Bond film comes with its own signature tune – some great, others not so much, but they’re always there. Too stressed to even think about sex? Vicariously live through Bond and his ever-rotating band of women.
Plus, as of this writing, the majority of the films are available to stream on Hulu, PlutoTV, and Amazon Prime, at least in the States.
Didn’t you say you don’t actually like the Bond movies?
Less don’t like, more haven’t really seen most of them. Judged from afar, the Bond films always struck me as relics, Cold War-era adventures about diabolical villains intent on world domination and the womanizing spy who always manages to stop them and reaffirm the western world’s intellectual and cultural supremacy. They’re male power fantasies born from the mind of an author, Ian Fleming, who put off marriage until he was 44 and then created an idealized fictional super-spy character to live the independent life he was giving up.
I thought that, however, largely sight unseen. This past week, I’ve watched the Timothy Dalton era and several of the Roger Moore films for the first time and had a blast with all of them, even Moonraker – dated gender politics and all. I take comfort in their predictability and camp appeal, and in some cases – such as 1981’s For Your Eyes Only – they’re just damn good movies with enjoyably twisty spy stories.
Beyond that, I clearly underestimated just how impressive the how-the-hell-did-they-do-that practical stunts are in the Bond films. It’s making me seriously nostalgic for the pre-CGI era.
I have a lot more to watch, though. I’ve still seen less than half of the Bond flicks.
Growing up, the Dalton and Pierce Brosnan Bonds were but background pop culture noise to me, fodder for fantastic video games – well, just the one great game, really – but little more. Sean Connery wasn’t Bond to me – he was Indiana Jones’ dad and the Highlander’s clearly Scottish but somehow Spanish mentor. I knew neither hide nor tail of Moore and was only vaguely aware of George Lazenby’s existence. When the Daniel Craig films came along, they were fine enough as far as modern action movies go but hardly unique in a landscape full of fellow gritty reboots (Batman Begins, Star Trek) and spy franchises (Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne). On the rare occasion when I would try to finally watch one of the old Connery flicks, I struggled to NOT see the Austin Powers of it all.
The 007 movies mean a lot to people, though. We are talking about a franchise that has endured for nearly 60 years, sold more tickets than just about anything else, launched countless knockoffs, and led many a person to try a vodka martini for the first time.
Indeed. In Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross’ new Bond oral history book Nobody Does It Better, the opening chapter contains various “Bond changed my life” stories from people like Christian Slater, Ronald D. Moore, John Landis, and Robert Rodriguez. The point is made repeatedly that before Star Wars, before Jaws, before the birth of the summer blockbuster and domination of the action movie star, there was Bond setting the template, defining cool, and inspiring an entire generation to want to tell stories for a living.
Indiana Jones, for example, only exists because while vacationing together in Hawaii in 1977 Steven Spielberg told George Lucas he really wanted to make a James Bond movie. He’d even talked to Universal about it, who said they’d try to make it work if he could get Connery back.
“I’ve got a great idea for a James Bond movie,” Lucas is said to have replied, as recounted in the book Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer, “You can start from scratch. It’s even better, it’s got all the action; it’s an action-serial thing, just like James Bond.”
Lucas proceeded to describe his version of Bond: an archaeologist who takes on Nazis.
Was Indy your Bond growing up?
Yep. Indiana Jones was my James Bond, Harrison Ford my Sean Connery. Don’t talk to me about Ursula Andress when I already have Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, and, sure, Monty Norman and John Barry’s Bond theme is iconic but so is John Williams’ Indy march.
Indy – nodding to our shared mortality – eventually got old. Though they keep hinting at a potential baton-passing from Ford to some unnamed successor, the Indiana wet met in 1981 is the same one we revisited in 2008 and might meet again in 2022, assuming Hollywood will finally be back to making movies by then.
Bond, however, remains evergreen. When Connery wanted out, they cribbed from Doctor Who – which had replaced William Hartnell with Patrick Troughton three years earlier – and simply recast. When George Lazenby instantly grew bored with the business of acting and Connery came back only to want out again, they called on 6’1” model-turned-actor Roger Moore to completely remake the role. 15 years later, an increasingly-bored-looking Moore gave way to Dalton, a theater ach-tor who studied the Fleming novels like Shakespeare and finally brought the author’s grittier version of Bond to the screen. 8 years after that, Pierce Brosnan brought the fun back and continued doing so for nearly a decade.
Oh, don’t remind me. Brosnan’s damn invisible car.
Yeah, he has an invisible car in one of his movies.
News to me. My Brosnan era experience is limited to playing the hell out of the Goldeneye video game. So, an invisible car – I have that to look forward to on this marathon. Can I get back to my whole speel?
It wasn’t until 2006 – a year after Christopher Nolan turned Batman into James Bond, with Morgan Freeman as his Q, in a gritty origin story – that 007 truly started over. Bond never truly grew up as a character until Daniel Craig dragged him kicking and screaming into the 21st century, offering up a surprising origin story and a series of films that are the closest the franchise has ever come to honest-to-goodness direct sequels. These are the ones I know the best, but as I’ve dipped into some of the older adventures I newly understand why some longtime fans complain about missing the fun of classic Bond. We’ll get into all of that throughout the marathon.
Tell me about Spectre.
In an alternate, better timeline in which the pandemic didn’t happen, we’d have all seen Daniel Craig’s final Bond movie – No Time to Die – by now. That sadly has to wait until much later in the year, assuming the pandemic doesn’t force MGM to change plans again. Whenever we do see No Time to Die, may it be a better swan song for Craig than Spectre, 2015’s cursed clunker that weathered delays, infighting, a script leak perpetrated by North Korea, and ended up with a final product that proves 007 should probably leave cinematic universe-building to the MCU.
Yet, it’s still kind of watchable.
More on that tomorrow when I assess Spectre and officially kick off The De-Evolution of James Bond. The day after that, Julianne – who has a far longer history with the Bond films than me – will join the conversation with her take on Skyfall.