Epic phrases in movies are nothing new. Classic characters breed classic lines, from Darth Vader’s “I am your father” to Enigo Montoya’s “My name is Enigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”
Many of the lines remind us of our identification with the character we have known, loved, or even wanted to really be ourselves. But none of them have been said on screen quite as often as, “The name is Bond. James Bond,” the immortal introduction of the world’s most famous spy.
The chronicles of the British MI6 agent who dashes into dangerous situations with a sardonic grin, a Walter PPK (first seen in Dr. No), and a taste for vodka martinis (shaken not stirred), have spanned fifty years and six actors. James Bond has tackled forces of evil when no one else was willing or able to lift a finger, and at times, single-handedly defended the British/American way of life. He’s the superhero with no unearthly powers, no secret origin, no mask to hide behind. But he’s a hero nonetheless.
If Daniel Craig’s blonde Bond is the only one you’ve ever seen on screen, then the depth of the repertoire is missing. Bond has been saving the world one catastrophe at a time since Ian Fleming created the character in 1953; Sean Connery’s portrayal in Dr. No was the first of twenty-four movies (twenty-two recognized within the canon) that have featured James Bond as 007. Nearly twenty years before Robert Ludlum began his illustrious thriller writing career (of which the Jason Bourne stories are the most recognized), Fleming created Bond. Without Bond, there’s no room for Bourne, for Austin Powers, for any of hundreds of adventure stories that feature gadgets, spies, or world-threatening villains.
That kind of absolute admiration has drawn raised eyebrows and incredulous questions. “How can you be such a big fan? What can you possibly see in those films that lines up with your values? Seriously, aren’t you a Christian or something?” Those are the typical questions, and after twenty years of questions, and subsequent conversations, consider this six-part exploration as my official response.
So, how is James Bond redeemable? What can we learn from the character as conveyed by those who wrote his story, starting with Fleming’s creation in the 1950s, and those who played the part from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig? What could a person seeking morals and meaning in the world possibly see as worth more than a few hours of passing fancy, a fantasy devoid of faithful reality? What can we learn about ourselves, the world we live in, and the expectations of ethics and faith through the stories of Bond?
The common complaint against Bond has been his cavalier attitude toward sex, so exploring the purpose and character of the man requires our examination of the women known as “Bond Girls.” (Little criticism has been launched at the violence, again showing the Western Church’s affection for a “hierarchy of sin” as it has been determined in the last fifty years, but that’s neither here nor there. ) But Bond is also determined by the missions he takes on at the behest of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and by the villains he encounters along the way. With those three points of reference, in the following chapters, we’ll investigate Bond as sinner, saint, or savior.
What makes Bond the man that he is? Is it nature or nurture, or some blend of both? While the movies which roll through the cineplex now are more standalone in nature, it seems obvious that to understand today’s James Bond, there needs to be some reflection on the historical Bond. Where does he get his motivation? What purpose (or joy) does he get out of accomplishing it? What is his motivation for accepting life-threatening risk? Bond has too often been evaluated critically from the view of his sexual conquests rather than the accomplishing of his goal and the ultimate satisfaction of his free world-saving missions. In these pages, we will consider what it is about Bond that makes him tick, and subsequently, what about Bond is in fact redeemable.
Our journey will start with the James Bond we first met on screen in 1962, fifty years ago, as Sean Connery suavely drops that line, “Bond. James Bond,” in the midst of a card game. Many of you will be introduced to George Lazenby, the one-shot Bond in the middle of the Connery era, who deserves his own chapter at some point but will merely be a footnote. We’ll follow Bond through the ‘70s and ‘80s with the “saintly” Roger Moore, establish a change for a more gritty, realistic Bond with Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, and leave you waiting breathlessly for Skyfall (November 2012) as Daniel Craig returns for a third time carrying his license to kill.
Whether Bond is merely the blunt instrument of his government or the assertive do-gooder is up for you to decide. But the fact remains that no single character has stood the test of time and experienced such prolific success as Bond, James Bond.