Well, I know, it is an old argument. One that is being dusted off every time a new man slips into the suit. Always a man, mind you. And the man in question is Bond, James Bond. With Casino Royale now in theaters, and the less-than-favored Daniel Craig assuming the role of 007, the question arises anew: does Bond still matter, over fifty years after he was introduced to the world in Ian Fleming’s spy stories? Should he die another day, right this minute, or some time tomorrow (which presumably never dies)? What does his resilience tell us about the crumbled British Empire, about the state of international diplomacy, about the ways of the warring world?
A new Bond picture is still a media event, some forty-five years after the release of the first entry in what turned out to be a highly lucrative franchise. For me, it all began with The Spy Who Loved Me, the second movie I ever got to see in a theater; as such, it made quite an impression on me. Okay, he did not love me (little did I know how much he loathed me and my kind). The villain was played by a fellow German (Curt Jurgens); but dubbing, as it is still being practiced in my native country, all but obscured the lingering animosity toward Germany as expressed in such castings. It is easy to watch James Bond thrillers without noticing their cultural and political agenda. It is convenient to do so; but it also renders those films irrelevant.
Bond did much to keep the Cold War alive—or any crisis beneficial to the West. He has always been On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (rather than the people’s)—and a grateful Queen Elizabeth II once again attended the Royal Premiere of the latest 007 mission she thus endorsed. Bond is the anti-diplomat—ultra-conservative, xenophobic, and unapologetically sexist. Dame Judy Dench was brought in as a response to decades of Pussy Galore and the casting cat calls it provoked; but “Octo” never did denote octogenarian and female sidekicks still get the kittenish outfits, the headlines and centerfolds, along with those less than subtle names suggestive of slippery bodies just waiting for a firm . . . well, you know. Bond is an institution—perhaps one that is ripe for abolishment. Austin Powers may have mocked the machismo, as others have done before him, but left the Bond franchise unshaken if slightly stirred.
The producers of the latest installment could have responded to such claims of obsolescence by turning Casino Royale into a period piece, setting it in the political climate in which it was conceived. It would have been a bold move for Bond, at once an acknowledgment of the datedness of the character and its historical significance, a topical significance long obscured in favor of gadgetry and reduced to pop-cultural nods to celebrities of the day (such as Goldie or Grace Jones, last seen at a Guinness Book-making gathering of the Joneses). Diamonds Are Forever—but traditions? Upon reflection, the Bond image might be as timeless as a rhinestone on an extravagant designer suit: dernier crie one day, but “for crying out loud” thereafter.
That said, I am looking forward to the latest James Bond, if only to take him on. If Freddy Kruger can be confronted with Jason, how about a match-up of Bond versus Shaft, to kick the imperial highness right out of 007’s pants? How about Bond having the living daylights scared out of him by Lara Croft? I’d put my Moneypenny on such a fight. How about, Goldfingers crossed, Shaft and Lara Croft as James Bond? You might get to witness just that . . . if you only live twice.