Every three to four years, amidst the crowd of superhero blockbusters, historical biographies, and character-focused dramas, the Hollywood machine delivers us another silver screen adventure of ‘James Bond’, with all the cars, gadgets, suits, and martinis you’ve come to expect. Daniel Craig will be playing the titular character for the fifth time in next year’s Bond 25 (Working Title), and when this was announced in August of last year, everyone seemed excited about it. But honestly, should there be a reason for that excitement? Because with every contemporary Bond film, it seems as though the franchise is less and less clear about its own identity, personality, and structure; which leads to films that are bland, uninterested in its own material, and generally, not very good. And yet, every time one of these comes along, it seems everyone wants to go see it. Well, I’d like to take this time to argue that, as a franchise, James Bond should be allowed to end.
the biggest thing the franchise had going for it in terms of identity, was a light hearted 60s tone and an indulgence for structural and character tropes of the spy movie genre
The main problem with making a James Bond movie right now is that every single thing that makes the franchise unique is now either (a) so anachronistic that it has no actual place in either the modern world or contemporary filmmaking, or (b) being done in better movies. Aside from the iconography of the franchise (which, to be clear, does not count as, or substitute for identity), the biggest thing the franchise had going for it in terms of identity, was a light-hearted 60s tone and an indulgence for structural and character tropes of the spy movie genre. The over-the-top evil villain in a remote evil lair being foiled by the suave, attractive man with a bunch of gadgets that gets the girl and rides off into the sunset. It’s not hard to understand the appeal of the sort of formula, both as a mindlessly entertaining way to kill 90 minutes of your time, and as a male power fantasy (which, let’s face it, has always been one of the main appeals of James Bond’s entire history).
Here’s the thing. When it comes to the spy action genre, people’s expectations and desire of the films have changed dramatically from what they were when the James Bond franchise was at the height of its popularity. The light-hearted, trope-heavy style no longer works with this style of filmmaking. Contemporary spy thrillers, such as Atomic Blonde, the Mission Impossible franchise, and the John Wick movies, are all grounded in at least some level of reality. Spy movies that do adhere to a campier 60s tone (such as Guy Ritchie’s 2015 The Man From Uncle) are less successful, and generally, fly under most people’s radar. And for the Bond films, trying to fit that more serious tone robs the franchise of its signature style, meaning any sense of the original Bond is removed. Without them, films like Spectre and Skyfall just become regular dull action movies. And not great ones at that. And even whilst the franchise does currently try and adhere to the serious, dark tone of the current genre, it can’t help but try and cash in on the history of the franchise in order to promote its current one.
the current films feel like they need to attach themselves to the previous movies in order to remain appealing
The villain of the most recent Bond film Spectre (played by a wasted Christoph Waltz) has exactly two features to him. The fact that he’s secretly Bond’s long-lost brother and the fact that he’s actually ‘Ernst Blofeld’, one of the most popular villains from the original franchise. The first is just a product of bad and lazy writing, but the second is an indication that the current films feel like they need to attach themselves to the previous movies in order to remain appealing. You can’t go “we’re doing our own thing and going in a completely different direction” and then go “see? The main driving force of this movie is a character from the old films. Isn’t that cool?”
The other main problem with the current franchise is that without the original tone, the franchise loses a huge amount of its original appeal and doesn’t have a lot to offer instead. Why? Because the lead character, James Bond himself, is not an interesting character. He wasn’t particularly interesting in the original movies and he definitely isn’t interesting now. The franchise has never bothered to give us a Bond that we can identify or understand, having always preferred to slap on a bunch of cool suits, attractive women, snazzy gadgets and then call it a day. Except now, the suits are just muted and look like they borrowed the wardrobe of the British ‘House of Cards’. Having your lead female character exist just so that the male lead can sleep with them is no longer something that films can get away with and the gadgets are no longer anything interesting because of the sense of realism that the Bond movies keep trying to push. Remove those things, and all you’re left with is a boring character, who we can’t understand or relate to, doing whatever the plot needs him to.
If they decided to take some genuine risks with the films, hire some filmmakers who would do something different with franchise and actually took the time to dive in, deconstruct, or even just humanise ‘James Bond’ as a character, this could lead to some genuinely interesting films
Is there anything that the franchise can do to change this? I think so, yes. If they decided to take some genuine risks with the films, hire some filmmakers who would do something different with the franchise and actually took the time to dive in, deconstruct, or even just humanise ‘James Bond’ as a character, this could lead to some genuinely interesting films. Unfortunately, I don’t see any of that happening in the near future and especially not with next year’s Bond 25. James Bond is a franchise that, whilst once relevant and unique, is now a product of its time. But that time has long since passed. And there would be no shame, nor harm, in the studio throwing in the towel, and moving on to more interesting ideas. I would be better if they stopped kicking the dead horse, which halted the production of Vodka Martinis a long time ago.