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Can James Bond Save the Movies?

By Walker Joyce

“Bond. James Bond.”

That line of introduction doesn’t need one. Even the most casual film fan recognizes it as the traditional way 007 greets everyone in the twenty-seven flicks about the superspy. It became a cliché years ago, and has been imitated, even satirized since it was first uttered in 1962.

In most of the thrillers, the fictitious MI6 agent saved the entire world from various madmen bent on either ruling the planet or destroying it. Despite overwhelming odds and a year’s supply of Hollywood pyrotechnics, Bond always prevailed in the final reel.

But now, in the Age of Covid, Cable, Inflated Prices and Big Screen TVs, can James bring people back to the Cinema? That might be an even tougher assignment.

To put this another way, can this heretofore iconic character still thrive amid all the comic book heroes, political correctness and other cultural changes?

We’re about to find out. I’m writing this on the movie’s opening day here, after No Time to Die set European box office records. American distributors are hoping the trend continues.

After seeing a matinee, I have my doubts. Before I detail them, let me reflect on this longest major series in Hollywood history.

My fandom began in 1964 when I saw Goldfinger, regarded as the best film in the franchise. It was the third Bond flick and made the character and the spy genre peak in popularity. Sean Connery, who most folks (including me) consider the best 007, became an international superstar when this picture skyrocketed.

He had all the requisite qualities, at least regarding Bond’s screen persona: uber-masculinity and sex appeal, British elegance, plenty of fighting prowess to match his “license to kill,” and a dry wit as lethal as his Walther PPK handgun. None of his successors possessed this complete package.

Bond was a creation of the Cold War, beginning with the Ian Fleming novels in the 1950’s, when his exploits—including his hedonistic appetites—assuaged the WWII deprivations of the UK citizens he was fictionally defending.

By the time he appeared on the silver screen, JFK (who loved the books) echoed the character from the White House. America and the Soviet Union were the chief antagonists of the nuclear age, fighting proxy wars across the globe and engaging in espionage on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

James fit right in.

But now?

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed two years later, and now satellites are doing most of the spying. Feminism triumphed in the West, rendering the concept of the “Bond Girl,” a buxom, scantily clad plaything of the hero, quaint at best.

Post-AIDS and the onset of the MeToo Movement, a bed-hopping secret agent who changed sex partners like socks became archaic, even offensive.

Daniel Craig inherited the role in 2006, breaking the mold of dark-haired, suave playboys. His 007 was blonde, blocky and instead of a wry sense of humor, he seemed downright surly. He may have been closer to Fleming’s conception, a cold, even brutish executioner, but many of us missed the sophistication and the humor.

The current release will be his last, and it includes its share of Woke touches like making the character of Q, the stuffy gadget inventor for the past 60+ years, gay.

Such arbitrary changes, plus Craig’s brooding, the film’s inflated length and improbable ending, bode ill for reversing empty theaters. By the time these words are published, we’ll know.