The mystique of James Bond has come out of a three decades slump. All of the bad guys in the world have heard of 007 – but only the most evil of criminal minds have had the misfortune of making Bond’s acquaintance. So what is it about this mystique that continues to enthrall the movie audience? And why has the franchise been regenerated of late?
I was twelve when I first saw Dr. No. Sean Connery perfectly captured the essence of Mickey Spillane with an international image. The children of my generation had grown up with The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy and the Cisco Kid. These ‘good guys’ never killed anyone – in fact they purposely shot the gun out of the bad guy’s hand. James Bond changed the dynamic forever – he had a license to kill – an unheard of proposition. I bought the books and read Ian Flemming faithfully.
I remember being shocked when Sean Connery ruthlessly killed an unarmed man after a brief interrogation. The audience gasped at the idea. James Bond was not someone to trifle with. This man was serious about his business. Connery was everything that Ian Fleming must have imagined; the franchise was launched.
Following Connery was a spoof movie that failed miserably. Roger Moore took over. Sadly, for Moore and the audience, the franchise became formulaic – and just plain goofy. The hardened detective of MI6 became a pretty boy, no longer ruthless in pursuit of justice. The gadgets took over as special effects began to dominate the big screen. The fair-headed Moore wore earth tones – yuk! The hype was bigger than the content of the movie, with foolish movie names like ‘Octopussy.’ James bond was hijacking Space shuttles to disarm diamond encrusted satellite doomsday weapons. James Bond had become a cartoonish freak show. But the movies made money and more cartoons were produced.
Timothy Dalton was followed by Pierce Brosnan in a futile attempt to revive the faltering series. These two actors might have been successful had the scriptwriters abandoned the cartoon silliness. Knock the bad guy out and say something clever – a joke or funny quip was required in every scene. Put Bond in a dangerous situation, force him to run and jump (something Roger Moore could not do), have a couple of big explosions, then Bond comes out the other side looking as if he is ready to go to dinner at the Country Club. How boring is that? Bond had become robotic – lacking humanity.
Daniel Craig has emerged as the true successor to Sean Connery – and to the original ideal of Ian Flemming. But the credit should also be given to the writers. Craig’s first big hit as Bond was in Casino Royale. Craig gave us a performance of a human rising to the challenge of combating evil. Craig captures the dichotomy of the good guy with unprincipled ruthlessness – that shocking attribute that I remember from fifty years past.
Let all of us Bond fans hope that the bean counters never again gain control of this franchise. The producers of the Bond films should take a lesson from the Demming school of management theory – Quality Pays!
Nothing is more important than a good product.