James Bond is cool in the sense that he is a cool guy. He sleeps with a bunch of women, kills the bad guys, drinks all the Martinis he wants, and generally seems to have a good time. But how long’s it been since Bond was a trendsetter? Pretty long, it seems.
With the impending release of SKYFALL and 007’s traditional whoring out to various brands, let’s take a look back at the various iterations of the character throughout the decades, and how each impacted the way we looked at him.
1962: DOCTOR NO
The stereotype we have in our heads when we hear the term “Bond movie” would only be fully formed with 1967’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but a lot of elements we’d come to know as classic Bond were already in place in the first movie, 1962’s DR. NO.
The titular doctor is an exotic villain – an iron-handed Chinese/German nuclear scientist – with an island base, guarded by what the foolish natives believe to be a dragon. Bond beds several women, one of whom is a treacherous secret ally of No’s. From the very first frames, the iconic Bond theme is there:
Flashy pop-art colors! Shakin’ booties! BLACK music! Well, it’s not exactly crunk, but it was pretty racy for 1962. This movie definitely had a touch of the lurid to it for moviegoers of the day. A male fantasy with a coldness ill-befitting a “romantic lead” type (Bond shoots an unarmed man and is fairly promiscuous), it left audiences hungry for more. Which they got in abundance!
1971: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
Nearly ten years after his cinematic debut, Bond had become less of an illicit trip to a racy fantasy land than one of the earliest cases of non-musical cinematic blockbuster comfort food. Let my good friend Phil from Badassdigest.com explain it:
“There's a moment in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever where Sean Connery --41, oily and graying, ear canals full of hair-- strides into a casino in his white dinner jacket and is greeted by a noisy, ugly scene of tourists in sloppy clothes, jerking off slot machines. In that instant, it was as if the world had left suave, supercool James Bond behind, and he's been scrambling to catch up ever since.”
Rather than taking you to Jamaica, Venice, the Bahamas, Japan, the Alps, or some other location you movie-going schmucks probably would never visit, Bond finally came to his audience. Like a washed-up crooner with mob debts, 007 catered to the tourists. He’d show you sleaze, but only safely through the series’ PG filter.
Everything about DIAMONDS was about reassurance: After Connery’s absence for ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, his return was touted with maximum fanfare. Note how his name’s about as big as the title and the character on that poster.
The villain? (Spoilers for a 40+ year old movie ahoy) Blofeld again! Bond wasn’t setting trends anymore, he was following them. Throughout the 70s, EON made damn sure their character was on top of what was hot, give or take a few years.
1981: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
007’s first 80s outing features a series first (and last): The Bond song artist actually performing the song over the credits. OBSERVE!
The 80s hit Bond HORRRRD in other ways as well. Look at this chase scene and decide if it’s from a Bond movie or a higher budgeted A-Team episode, complete with Roger Moore dressed as George Peppard.
Beige and pastel and wailing guitars and suitcases full of money – if it weren’t for the European location, you’d never know! But I have to admit, I kinda love Bill Conti’s funky score.
No more bikini buttz on the poster for 1990s Bond! In the era that had swapped Guns ‘N Roses for Nirvana (and commodified their sound in less than a year), Bond was a relic of the Cold War, a sexist dinosaur! At least, according to Bond’s new boss – a *gasp* LADY M! Dame Judi Dench did a wonderful job, of course, and continued to do so until at least 2012, even when the films she appeared in weren’t always up to snuff. Of the two Bond girls, one was a hypersexual cartoon (Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp) and the other a cardigan-wearing computer programmer (Izabela Scorupco’s Natalya Romanova). Both are highly competent in their fields.
2002: DIE ANOTHER DAY
Bad photoshop? Flames from seemingly nowhere? Floating heads? Yes, you ARE looking at a movie poster from the early 2000s! Hey, at least the women are still capable rather than damsels in distress, right? Oh yes! They are in fact SO capable that one (Halle Berry’s American spy Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson) was considered for a spin-off for about five seconds. Truly there is nothing more comforting and familiar to the 00s than good old franchise buildin’ and license-securin’.
Just as 1973’s LIVE AND LET DIE and 1977’s MOONRAKER were shamelessly copying what was popular at the time (black people and space, respectively), Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson took a look at youth culture before starting production on DAD and discovered techno, computers and… slow motion? I guess we’re lucky James never had to wear a trenchcoat at any point.
Enjoy this low point from the franchise! I do!
Early buzz around the movie seems to be good, and we’ll have to wait to assess how typical it is for this decade till around 2020. Will Bond do his own thing again, like so many decades ago? Will he become a trendsetter, rather than a shameless sell-out follower? Who knows! So let’s be cautiously optimistic and keep our fingers crossed for Diana Rigg showing up post-credits to recruit Craig into The Real Avengers Thank You Very Much.