During the early 60s a film phenomenon hit theaters and through several changes in the lead and supporting members of the cast has been with us ever since. I am of course talking about the James Bond film series.
For a long time the character was a product of the time in which the film version was born. He was a hard drinking, hard smoking, and free loving man of action that was always in charge of the situation. Bond was the best of the best. He was a character who was in control even when it looked like he was not. Quick witted and intelligent, he befuddled his enemies and charmed the ladies.
As social morays changed some of those aspects were muted or forgotten about. James Bond slept with fewer women in his later films, and I believe starting with George Lazenby but most definitely with Roger Moore the character quit smoking. Connery was the one and only Eon actor to light a cigarette. But at his core Bond still retained many of the elements. He was still the kind of man you might want to be. What man does not want to be intelligent and charming? What man does not want to be irresistible to women? What man does not wish to be able to stop a dangerous foe should he need to do so?
One element was the fun or escapist fantasy aspect. Bond was a male fantasy. He was the man men wished they could be with a life they wanted but realistically could never have. Bond had cool gadgets and exotic locations and unusual villains who could only be stopped by one man. No matter how powerful they were or how well thought out their scheme, they could always be brought down by Bond, James Bond and his signature martini.
And the cool gadgets were most certainly an important element of the series. Laser watches and belts with repelling cords and glider boats and submersible cars to just name a few random ones off the top of my head. James Bond had the best toys in film. And no matter how odd they were they came in handy.
Bond had a supporting cast of recurring characters that did join him occasionally in his adventures but were never front and center in the action. Bond was the focus because he was in the title. Bond was the center and was the one making things happen.
And then things changed. The series had proceeded from the 60s with the character’s backstory remaining largely unaffected by the passage of time. Some tweaks in how it was, if ever, mentioned occurred but his biography never significantly changed. Several actors had come and gone in the role. Somewhere someone began thinking the series needed a reboot and so it got one.
Eon Productions finally acquired the rights to the first Bond book Casino Royale after many years and decided to not only adapt it to the big screen but to use that story as the basis to start the entire Bond Series over again. I am guessing they were persuaded by people barely invested in the films rather than longtime fans because obviously those that kept coming back saw no need to reboot.
Something they did away with when the Craig Era started was the fun. I admit that the Roger Moore films at times became too goofy but one of the things that helped the James Bond films stand out was the ingredient called fun. These were escapist action films and not deep thrillers. Let us not forget the gadgets. They did away with that too. With this new beginning they decided to go for more realistic and to be quite honest realistic spy thrillers are a dime a dozen. You get one every year or every other year and, in the end, some are better than others, but none have spawned a long-lasting series like Bond has. The Bourne films are not really a thing anymore and the MI films are not Ethan Hunt movies but are Tom Cruise movies so it seems unlikely they can carry on without Cruise.
One of the things that has helped Bond withstand the test of time is the previously mention ingredient of fun. They are not repeatedly downbeat or dour. Or it were not until recently. How often will people keep coming back to something depressing or just regularly down. In life do you keep hanging around an individual that is depressing? Extend that to a movie series. Would you keep returning to it? Maybe for a little bit but not for another 60 years.
The new films are not crafted for long-term fans. They crafted for critics and to garner Academy Awards. That is all well and good but not every critical darling and not every Academy Award winner is a multimillion-dollar film that is a global success. More often than not they are cheaper productions and quite a few don’t do that well at the box office.
From day one James Bond has always had his demons. In the beginning they were minor but as his film biography grew they grew. That much was made clear throughout the original run. He had guilt for those he could not save and that came to include his wife. But he was not crippled by them as he currently is. The current Bond can barely function because of guilt and is almost unable fulfill his duties because of that guilt.
From day one on film the character of James Bond has always had his demons. In the beginning they were minor but as his film biography grew they also grew. That much was made clear throughout the original run. He had guilt for those he could not save and that came to include his wife. But he was not crippled by them as he currently is. The current Bond can barely function because of guilt and is almost unable to fulfill his duties because of that guilt.
And the stories no longer focus on Bond defeating a villain but rather are more concerned with Bond’s personal issues with the villain and the problems the villain causes being almost incidental. Look at Spectre for example. Look at any of the new ones and everything intersects back to James Bond. I cannot imagine even in a fictitious spy world that anybody would think it is a good idea to keep that man on duty. So many villains and problems connect back to Bond that he should be considered a significant security risk.
Now Bond is a character in his twilight running on fumes and at points almost humored by those around him. Bond is no longer better than the best. He is no longer in control. He is no longer the man men wish they could be. He is almost a joke to those in his fictional universe. He is a has been to them who keeps his job less because of skill and more because those above him have no other choice or pity him. That makes anyone, real or fake, pathetic.
Another issue is that up until Spectre the characters in the reboots did not really seem to like each other. Bond was barely tolerated, and I guarantee you M would have put a knife in his eye because he ate the last pudding cup in the MI6 commissary. Previously everybody was on the same side and at least got along even if they did not see things the same way. Now they do not. How can you even be affective against problems of the world if you are angry with each other and infighting?
There is a focus on emotion and feelings at the expense of story. Have emotion. Have depth. Just do not have your hero made ineffective by it. You need to feel confident that the main character can save the day without breaking down. And who wants the hero to be a has been that never quite proves their worth and that they are not washed up? Bond never quite gets there these days. His doubters are right and the bad guys fail because they could care less about him. He is not their equal but rather an inferior that succeeds because they discount him.
The character of James Bond films just is not as good as he once was. The films are aimed at critics and awards and not at a general audience which harms the presentation of the character. We have a character in Bond no one would wish to be in comparison to how the character was before. I hope in my heart of hearts that this changes, but I do not think it will.