It has now been 51 years since the first silver-screen appearance of the secret agent known as James Bond (code name 007) in Dr. No (1962). Since then, there have been twenty-three films, and six actors who have donned the Bond tuxedo. From Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan (in the first twenty films), there have been many ‘staples’ of the Bond world that viewers have come to expect and appreciate over the years: girls, gadgets, M, Q, Felix Leiter, Moneypenny, fancy cars, poker, dry shaken martinis… all to do with a rather dapper and somewhat fantastic lifestyle. All men wanted to be Bond, and all women wanted to be his girl; for his world is, in a sense, the ultimate escapist experience. With the new millennium came an opportunity to reboot the franchise, as Christopher Nolan did with the Batman franchise, and with Daniel Craig’s Bond we discover Bond’s origins (which will no doubt re-launch the suave, debonair 007 we’ve all come to know and love in the next film). So, out with the old, in with the new, and with the new Bond, some of those beloved staples change to reflect the 21st century. These changes include: how females are represented in the films, the casting of key characters (M, Q, Felix, Moneypenny), and all the technology utilized by Bond.
Let’s first look at female representation in the Bond films. I say ‘females’ because there is a distinction to be made: in the early Bond films, these females are Bond girls, and in the later Bond films (especially with Craig), these females are women. Indeed the difference is that in the early Bond films, especially with Sean Connery, Bond is very domineering and misogynistic. It seems that to him, these girls are “disposable pleasures” (Vesper Lynd, Casino Royale) that are means to various ends, whether it be sexual gratification or even just getting into his opponent’s hotel room. In fact, often times, “Bond proves the villain’s impotence by seducing the villain’s girl, thus symbolically castrating him” (Woodward, 181). The girls symbolically represent, of course, the stakes of the ‘game’ between Bond and the bad guy. In the more recent Bond films, however, the women are more equal to Bond; he also respects them more. Equally, he seems more affected by the consequences the women he sleeps with suffer (because of their association with him); to him, they are no longer mere playthings, they do mean something. Another aspect of female representation in the Bond movies is how women are portrayed in the opening title sequences: in the first twenty films, these sequences predominantly feature naked (or semi-naked) women. In the last three films (Craig’s incarnation), women are either completely absent or mere background elements kept in homage to Ken Adam’s original concept. With the more respectable and one may say ‘politically correct’ approach to the women, it seems natural that the key characters surrounding Bond are likewise more ‘politically correct’ and reflective of the 21st century as well.
Another important change in the movies is the casting of the key secondary characters M, Q, Felix and Moneypenny. The M character is of particular importance here: when Pierce Brosnan became 007 in Goldeneye (1995), Judi Dench had been cast as M to reflect the fact that a woman had been newly appointed to head MI5 (Cork 249). One could have expected that M would be re-cast as a man, once again, when Daniel Craig became Bond in Casino Royale (2006). However, in a surprising twist, the film producers decided to keep Judi Dench as M in the franchise reboot. This seems to fundamentally change Bond’s character: M is, in a way, the mother he no longer had, and Bond is much more respectful of women than in previous incarnations. Having this as part of the origin story creates a new Bond for the new millennium. By the end of Skyfall (2012), however, Judi Dench’s M dies, and Gareth Mallory (played by Ralph Fiennes) becomes the new M; we can therefore presumably expect a return to the more classic Bond in following films. Moving on to Q the Quartermaster: this character is absent in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (2008), but is re-introduced to the series in Skyfall. Q was only ever played by two actors in the entire series before the latest film (by Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese), and they were both older men. The new incarnation of Q (portrayed by Ben Whishaw) is a bespectacled nerd, which is how we as a society perceive our technological experts these days. As for the CIA’s Felix Leiter, this character is traditionally played by an older Caucasian actor; however in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, he is played by young African-American actor Jeffrey Wright. Last but not least, Moneypenny, like Q, is only re-introduced in Skyfall. Like Felix, she was traditionally portrayed by Caucasian actresses, but is now played by Naomie Harris, who is black. The new millennium called for an evolution in casting, but also a continuing evolution in the technologies that are available to and utilized by Bond.
Last, but not least, the technology that is available to Bond. In the first twenty movies, the gadgets were futuristic and fantastic, contributing to the ultimate escapist fantasy that was Ian Fleming’s 007; these gadgets were therefore often subject to ridicule in many Bond spoof movies and TV shows. For example, in Johnny English (2003), the titular secret agent (played by Rowan Atkinson) accidentally injures a woman with a gadget laser pen. The latest Bond film Skyfall itself even poked fun at the previous films’ gadgets with Q saying (as he hands Bond the most basic of equipment, a radio transmitter and a gun), “What did you expect, an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore” (Skyfall). The reason for the poke is that with the new Bond came a new, more realistic technology. In all three of the latest Bond films, there are no flashy gadgets. In Casino Royale, 007 got a gun as well as a high-tech defibrillator, and, in Quantum of Solace, though the technology used by MI6 is high-tech and cutting-edge, Bond only uses a cell-phone and a gun. In Skyfall, Bond gets a high-tech custom-fitted gun and a locator beacon, or ‘radio’ (as it is coyly referred to by Bond). “Not exactly Christmas” as Bond points out; however, this can be perceived as an homage to the original inspiration for the best known British spy. Back in the 1960s (i.e., during the Cold War), “human intelligence” (Skyfall) was used more than fancy technology. This hands-on intelligence work is more Craig’s Bond, contrasting him with the technology-driven Silva (played by Javier Bardem) in Skyfall (this will be an interesting point to develop further at a later time). Also of note with the last three movies is that cars are not as present as they were in the previous installments. Astin Martins were very prevalent in the early Bond years; even when Fords were eventually introduced, they were still very important gadgets for Bond (e.g., the car that could become invisible in Die Another Day ). In the last three films, however, the Astin Martins are more like an homage to the previous films and the Fords merely transportation to get from point A to point B. We can therefore say that the change in technology is in tune with Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond.
In conclusion, a new millennium called for a reboot of the iconic James Bond franchise, and with that reboot came many changes to several staples. These changes include the epitomizing of women in the motion pictures, the more representational casting, and the reduced reliance on technology utilized by Bond. It has been a very turbulent and somewhat metamorphosing fifty plus years for the shaken-not-stirred martini drinker, but one thing that will most likely never change is that most iconic of introductions: “Bond, James Bond”.
C. F. Pelletier © 2013
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