Breaking from the Bond

As Spectre is about to be released on DVD, Richard Warburton examines how Bond has changed over fifty years and what this latest incarnation owes to previous ones. His angle contrasts with another Spectre review from regular contributor, Daniel Malice, here

Bond is back. Bond bleeds. Bond drinks beer. Bond shags a 51 year old. James Bond ballyhoo is up and running in its patent leather brogues. Daniel Craig’s pouty face is everywhere, flogging pricey clobber that only a Salesman of the Year at Amstrad would buy. Omega watches, Astons and Tom Ford suits are hardly secret service standard but inevitable accoutrements for a global brand. The last outing was thin gruel indeed despite its almost universal acclaim. Skyfall was a complacent exercise in nostalgia, content to hide under its Union Jack duvet smelling its own farts.

I loved the Roger Moore versions when I was a kid. I remember the excitement on seeing the life-size poster for Octopussy in the cinema foyer. It featured everything I was looking for in a movie: the suave and funny secret agent, the promise of a dogfight, an evil-looking chap in a turban with a nasty looking saw, a burning train and tigers. There also appeared to be a woman with eight arms but that didn’t put me off. I considered the film a complete success. Watching them as an adult, the casual racism and staid camerawork are symptomatic of some pretty poor filmmaking. But the point was that they were made for children.

Spectre will make its millions by “appealing” to a wide demographic. The independent theatre where I will watch it a couple of weeks after its release will be full of punters spending the grey pound. It’s the only auditorium where the cloying smell of Harvey’s Bristol Cream has put me off my movie. The clever casting of Judi Dench lent a kind of pseudo-gravitas and thespian authenticity to the otherwise cheap and forgettable Brosnan period. The Irish inflected ‘The Name’s Band, James Baand’ always niggled.

The introduction of Daniel Craig’s earnest countenance meant Bond was going to get serious, especially in the wake of Jason Bourne’s frenetic adventures. The new Bond spent his first film getting battered in the unmentionables and playing poker. Grimaces were front and centre and quips were nowhere. Craig’s natty pair of swimming trunks were the talk of the town. The latest incarnation has more muscles than strictly necessary and he is yet to dispose of a villain’s exotic but lethal pet. Really, 007 – this new earnestness just won’t do.

In person he must be the most impossible bore. Imagine going to the pub with him.

‘My round Jim, what are you having?’

‘Chateau Laffite sixty…’

‘Stop it. How about a nice rioja? Oh don’t sulk. They do Heineken in bottles?’ Bond gives me a look.

He sighs and sends a beer mat spinning across the room with a flick of his wrist. ‘Bourbon then.’

‘Aha. Of course! You drink more bourbon in the books than anything else.’

‘Felix Leiter’s fault.’

I go to the bar and realise I forgot to ask about ice or water. I don’t want to make him cross but when I turn back he has vanished. I spot him at the fruit machine. He loves to gamble. I get them to put some ice in a separate glass and return to the table. He joins me five minutes later and dumps down forty pound coins.

He ignores the ice, sniffs his drink then sips it. He appears to be satisfied. I try to strike up some small talk but he knows nothing about football and I know nothing about cars or choke holds. When I get back from the gents I find him chatting up the pretty barmaid. Bond waves me over and introduces us. Her name is Tiffany Smitten…

You get the idea. Why men idolise him is a mystery. It is similar to the case of DI Sarah Lund in that Danish paedo-noir, The Killing. Women wanted to be her despite the jumper. When I pointed out that she was borderline autistic and abused her son, I received some pretty frosty looks but notably no rebuttal from female acquaintances. People just love a sociopath I guess.

I caught up with Spectre in the end and it won me over. We were back to the exotic locations, opening with a ten minute tracking shot in Mexico City for The Day of the Dead festival. The gadgets have returned and so has Blofeld. Christoph Waltz’s odious little villain is the best since Drax in Moonraker. It’s also funny! The critics have been a bit sniffy, spluttering about a ‘cartoonish pastiche’ and ‘grandiose production values.’ Sounds perfect to me and, er… this isn’t Bergman. I blame Skyfall for this collective fit of missing the point. We don’t care about Bond’s parents. Judi Dench’s M for “maternal instinct” stifled the whole show. Her absence has cleared the way for more silly, misogynistic capers just like the good old days. My twelve-year-old self would have left the cinema reassured that Bond was indeed back.