Is it Time for Bond to Die?
The trailer for the new Bond film, No Time To Die, is out. So, once again, there will be people asking questions about James Bond’s continued existence in the modern world — and his relevance to modern cinema audiences.
Traditionally, James Bond is strongly associated with some rather outdated attitudes — especially towards women. There are suggestions that he considers their proper place to be in the bedroom, not in the field. He could be accused of using women instead of valuing them. And he can be rather sceptical — perhaps even disdainful — about their professional abilities.
Given this aura of misogyny, James Bond seems somewhat out of place in the modern world of equal opportunities and the ‘Me Too’ movement. Some people suggest that, in the interests of promoting equality and more enlightened attitudes, ‘the next James Bond’ should be a woman. Some people want to do away with Bond entirely.
And yet there are lots of fans who still appreciate the traditional elements of a Bond film — not just the gadgets, the car chases and the violence, but yes, the inappropriate comments and womanising too.
Can these modern and traditional sensibilities be reconciled to create a movie that is acceptable to modern audiences, yet still recognisably a James Bond film?
Well perhaps the trailer itself points to some good possible answers.
Can 007 be a female? Well of course she can. Why not? 007 is merely a code number for an agent. And there’s no logical reason why that agent can’t be female.
And the trailer does indeed introduce us to a female Double-O agent — played by Lashana Lynch. Her full number isn’t given in the trailer, but for all we know, she could be the new 007. James Bond himself appears to have retired or gone into hiding since the events of the previous film, Spectre, so the 007 moniker would presumably have become available to other agents.
This sets the scene for rivalry and collaboration between old and new. 007 (if that’s her number) gets modern gadgets and a shiny new Aston Martin. Bond makes do with his classic Aston Martin DB5 — which, although ostensibly old-fashioned, still has its uses.
The cars, of course, could be metaphors for their respective drivers. Nobody need doubt that a new Aston has great features and certain performance advantages over the classic DB5. But the DB5 still has much to recommend it.
The old Aston may be prone to getting crotchety. It may not handle as well as a new model. It may get a little out of step going around a tricky corner. But there are still some uses for which the old model does a better job than the new one. It’s a classic. It’s got style and class. It’s got a special something that’s not easy to quantify — or to reproduce. And its rough-handling characteristics might come in handy if you find yourself in a tight corner.
Indeed, Bond’s DB5 may actually be more useful than ever before, having undergone some modest modifications to better adapt it to cope with the rigours of the modern world.
But it’s still recognisably and unmistakably a DB5.
Perhaps Bond too has had some useful modifications — but hopefully not enough to completely change his character.
We don’t have to pretend that new is unequivocally better than old in every way. It isn’t. And that’s as true in the real world as it is in James Bond’s world.
In some ways, we’ve developed healthier attitudes than people had in the past. But we’ve taken missteps too. Sometimes, bigotry and intolerance have merely been replaced by new forms of bigotry and intolerance.
Not every step is a step forward and we should ditch any arrogance that makes us believe otherwise. Some old prejudices are out of fashion. And that’s a good thing. But the new prejudices that have taken their place ought to be challenged every bit as rigorously as we challenged the old ones.
Bond can be prejudiced. Bond can be flawed. Who isn’t? We all have prejudices and other flaws and we have to find our own ways to live with them or overcome them.
But Bond has admirable qualities too; courage, fortitude, staunchness, directness, independence of mind and a good sense of humour. And, for a spy, he’s actually remarkably honest.
Yes, these qualities aren’t very fashionable. Today, it’s considered far more important to be sensitive and culturally respectful. But this doesn’t mean Bond’s qualities don’t have value. A person’s faults do not justify overlooking their admirable qualities or positive contributions to the world.
Bond is an interesting character. He raises interesting moral questions precisely because he does things that would not be acceptable in everyday life.
Never mind his womanising for a moment. He has a licence to kill. This doesn’t mean he has a licence to kill people in self-defence. We all have that. It means he has a licence to kill people in cold blood, without giving them the benefit of a trial.
He kills in pursuit of what he perceives to be the greater good; saving innocent lives. But he often appears to be enjoying his work. Is this wrong? Or might it actually be a good thing? Does he need to have a sadistic side to his character, in order to be good at the job we need him to do?
Bond is also a womaniser. But is there something inherently wrong with that? He seduces women under false pretences, to gain information. But is that justified by the importance of his work?
Does he ‘use’ women and then cast them aside? Is he at fault for completely failing to keep his sex life separate from his professional life? Should he be held to the same standards as other people — or should extra allowances be made for the fact that he repeatedly risks his life to save others?
These are all interesting questions and they are brought up for discussion by the very fact that Bond’s behaviour is so abnormal. His life is supposed to be abnormal. That’s what makes him both entertaining and intriguing.
So I’m fine with 007 being a woman and I’m fine with old-fashioned attitudes being challenged. But James Bond can remain largely as he is; a womanising killer with a dark sense of humour. If we take away all of Bond’s ethically questionable behaviour, we destroy an important part of what makes Bond interesting.
I’m not a big fan of the direction the Bond franchise has taken in recent years. I think that, in trying to comply with modern tastes and sensibilities, it’s lost too much of what made Bond movies stylish, entertaining and different.
But I’m still a Bond fan. And whilst I’m not ready to count my chickens — not by a long way! — the new Bond trailer points to how the Bond franchise can still appeal to traditional fans, without ignoring the ways in which attitudes have changed since its inception. Perhaps we can have our cake and eat it.
And if modernists and traditionalists really can’t live and let live, then perhaps 007 and James Bond should go their separate ways. The franchise can be split, with a female 007 working dutifully for the government, under modern standards of appropriate sexual conduct. Meanwhile, the womanising James Bond can indulge himself in the private sector. Which part of the franchise would enjoy the greatest critical and commercial success, do you think? Which one would you rather watch?
Maybe James Bond isn’t finished just yet, after all.