Men do not come to see James Bond movies for the sensitive brooding of an aging spy. They come for the car, the bikini, and the volcano. This is apparently lost on some people in Hollywood — the same people who occupy the unfortunate position of actually making James Bond movies.
The Telegraph reports: “The next James Bond films will have bigger roles for women and a more sensitive 007, according to the producers.” Variety quotes producer Barbara Broccoli saying, “Bond is evolving just as men are evolving,” adding, “I don’t know who’s evolving at a faster pace.”
I have a difficult time believing that any fan of James Bond ever expressed a desire for the greatest secret agent in the history of film to be more in touch with his feelings. One does not attend a James Bond movie wanting to feel. You attend a James Bond movie to scale the heights of escapism. Exotic locales! The finest martinis! The coolest gear! The malevolent villains with their ridiculous plans involving hilariously over-the-top set pieces! And, of course, the most beautiful women, one of whom will almost certainly be betrayed and murdered while the other will have a great line or a moment of cool.
Ian Fleming’s books, most of which read as epic travelogues interrupted by occasional spy action, have in fairness more in common with the Daniel Craig version of Bond than the glitzy silliness of his earlier films. But after this too-dark, too-grim, too-morose version of Bond we’ve been living with since 2006’s Casino Royale, it would be doubling down to follow up with even more emotionally wracked portrayals of the character.
There’s a reason that the spiritual successors to earlier Bond are found in the comedic portrayal of Sterling Archer in the FX animated sitcom Archer, currently in its 13th season, whose bawdy humor, perennial intoxication, and moments of ludicrous action are possible in a cartoon format without violating workplace HR rules. A more juvenile, gory, and sexually explicit version is found in the Matthew Vaughn Kingsman series, which turns the cheesy sex puns of earlier Bond into fingering as a tracking method and blatant invitations to do a princess in the butt if you save the world.
Can’t there be a happy medium between the brooding Bond and his darkly comic imitators? Why is it so bad to have a super spy who is genuinely cool and good with the ladies? Are we going to be forced to pretend that Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has any charm outside of those incredible action sequences in the Mission: Impossible series, where the sexiest thing on screen was Henry Cavill reloading his guns?
Perhaps the problem is that the lessons of the original Bond have been appreciated, understood, and rejected by Hollywood as a form of retro masculinity out of step with the times. As Fleming wrote in Goldfinger in 1959 — the novel that elevated Bond into a far more complex character, even if it spends most of its time on a golf match — of the lesbian character Tilly Masterton:
Bond came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterton was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and “sex equality.” As a result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits–barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied. He was sorry for them, but he had no time for them.
Considering that we go to James Bond to get away from all that, we shouldn’t have any time for them either.