Bond, different enemies, but the fantasy of 007 never dies
LOS ANGELES (AP) - "Christ, I miss the Cold War," Judi
Dench's spymaster M mutters at the beginning of "Casino Royale,"
the 21st James Bond picture and the most raw, intense film of the
franchise. Just as the superspy was created as a product of his
times and thrived at the height of U.S.-Soviet tensions, so too
is the latest Bond in the series. In his debut in the iconic role,
Daniel Craig functions as a post-9/11 007, the enemies being terrorists
from throughout the world.
Dastardly commands are given
by cell phone text messages, one of which involves blowing up a
plane. And the ultimate showdown between Bond and the biggest bad
guy of all, a crafty financier who invests terrorists' money, takes
place at a multimillion-dollar Texas hold-'em poker match - like
something you'd see over and over on ESPN. (In Ian Fleming's 1953
book "Casino Royale," the game was Baccarat; the filmmakers
changed it to poker to make the movie more contemporary.)
In this photo provided by Sony Pictures, Daniel Craig makes
his debut as the British super spy James Bond in "Casino
Royale," as he becomes the first fair-haired 007.
The foes may sound vastly
different from the ones Sean Connery fought in the 1962's "Dr.
No," when moviegoers first met the sexy secret agent of Fleming's
novels. (Though "Casino Royale" is a prequel that introduces
us to the character as he receives his double-0 status, orders his
first martini and drives his first Aston Martin, it takes place
But even from the beginning
of the series, Bond (with the frequent help of the CIA) never battled
traditional enemies of the West "but rogue, aberrant, maverick
villains who don't represent communist governments, but often seek
in their own way to make the Cold War worse for both sides,"
said Stephen J. Whitfield, author of "The Culture of the Cold
"Even though Bond is
a Cold War hero, he transcends the official conflict by dealing
with villains who are even more salacious or devious than the KGB
or communist China," said Whitfield, a professor of American
studies at Brandeis University. "In my take of the films -
the earlier films, the films that Sean Connery starred in - what
they're really trying to say is, they tend to make the actual communist
adversaries seem less hostile and less dangerous."
In the 1963's "From
Russia With Love," for example, Lotte Lenya's character is
a former KGB agent who has broken off on her own, which makes the
KGB seem less menacing by comparison. In that sense, Whitfield added,
the longtime enemies in the Bond world are similar to the bad guys
in the real world today.
"Osama bin Laden, is
the realization of what Ian Fleming had imagined of the billionaire
who is both a crackpot and truly dangerous in the scale of his ambitions
of violence," he said. "It's very, very different from
a Khrushchev or a Brezhnev, different certainly from the conventional
communist foes that America was supposed to be very, very wary about."
Glenn Yeffeth, editor of
the essay collection "James Bond in the 21st Century: Why We
Still Need 007," said the enemies during Connery's years tended
to be ruthless supervillains. Under Roger Moore's subsequent tenure,
the bad guys grew sillier and had ridiculous plans to kill everyone
on the planet, as in the 1979's "Moonraker." During the
more recent Pierce Brosnan movies, they fell somewhere in the middle;
their schemes were elaborate but the figures themselves weren't
Yeffeth argues that villains
and themes changed with each actor playing Bond not necessarily
because of anything happening politically but rather to reflect
shifts in the cultural landscape. "If you look at Sean Connery,
the original James Bond, he was completely ruthless. He was misogynistic,
he was almost sociopathic. He was happy to throw a woman into the
path of a speeding bullet, he was happy to kill, he had the licence
to kill," he said. "The context was the Cold War and the
stakes were very high but James Bond was always about internal morality.
Sean Connery was fairly emotionless when it came to wreaking havoc
on the men and women around him, good or evil.
"If you look at how
he evolved moving into the feminist movement of the '70s, the producers
decided he was too intense, too serious. We can be heartless but
you have to have a smile on your face, and that was Roger Moore,"
he continued. "Roger Moore could also be fairly misogynistic,
he could also be heartless, but he was tongue in cheek. He wasn't
playing it so seriously and as time went on he became more of a
George Lazenby played Bond
in just one film, the 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service,"
between Connery and Moore. Timothy Dalton, who only made two - "The
Living Daylights" (1987) and "Licence to Kill" (1989)
- "was a flop but I thought he was actually quite good,"
Yeffeth said. "But he was very intense, very gritty, he had
some of the self-hatred that belonged to the original James Bond
and that really didn't fly. It wasn't a good fit for our times."
But the next Bond, Brosnan,
was just right because "he was a little more serious than Roger
Moore, but what was different with Pierce Brosnan was that he was
not a misogynist anymore. Women were taken seriously in those movies."
Yeffeth pointed to Michelle Yeoh in "Tomorrow Never Dies"
(1997) and Halle Berry in "Die Another Day" (2002) as
examples in which the women were Bond's equals, or close to it.
"With Sean Connery,
that wouldn't have worked. Sean Connery lived in a man's world and
women were props," he said. "You couldn't see (Brosnan)
throwing a woman in front of a bullet." The sixth and latest
Bond, Craig, has met his intellectual match in French actress Eva
Green as the smart, stunningly beautiful Treasury official who arranges
the money for his "Casino Royale" poker match.
She's no Bond girl strutting around poolside in a bikini, and while
she does fall for him (and he for her, in a rare, early example
of the spy being consumed by his emotions) it takes awhile.
But from the minute Craig
was announced as the next actor to wear that famously tailored tuxedo,
he's been slammed for everything from his blond hair and looks (which
are rougher than those of the elegant Bond to which we've grown
accustomed) to his filmography ("Sylvia," "Layer
"I always said when
the criticism started coming through, wait and see what the movie
is about because I knew from the very beginning we were going to
try and do something," the British actor told AP Television
News. Regardless of who's playing Bond, some things have remained
constants - the elaborate sets and fashionable costumes, the lavish,
jet-set lifestyle and the aura of sexuality, said longtime documentary
maker Laurent Bouzereau, author of "The Art of Bond."
"There's an element
of fantasy in the movies that has been a challenge to juggle,"
Bouzereau said. "Aside from Bond, action movies have become
more realistic - 'Die Hard' and such. I think Bond still has to
have an element of fantasy, whether it's sexual fantasy, whether
it's with humor, it's always there. Even when he kills someone there's
that sort of edge that makes it uniquely Bond."