My fellow film enthusiasts, just like the contemporary version of this iconic drink, the core formula of any Bond film can be seen as a ‘shaken not stirred’ concoction of girls, guns, gadgets and villains all revolving around the essential main character, James Bond. Like the classic martini it is this formula which has been, when necessary, enhanced and refined to represent changing societal values, attitudes and beliefs from 1962 to present. This ability to sustain the longevity of the franchise by appealing to contemporary audiences is why Bond can be seen to stand the test of time.
The evolution of films throughout the franchise can best be illustrated when examining two Bond movies which are more than four decades apart; Sean Connery’s 1964 Goldfinger, and Daniel Craig’s 2006 Casino Royale. These films specifically highlight two main elements of the Bond formula; the character portrayal of James Bond and the depiction of women in society and how they have evolved to suit the taste buds of the particular time. The most obvious, yet fundamentally important aspect of the Bond franchise is the construction of 007 himself, James Bond.
The construction of Bond is a complex fabric, sewn with puns and audaciously graceful remarks, then taken and intricately fused with his uncompromising skills as an ‘MI6 assassin’. These traits portray him as a hero who provides a level of escapism, while still being implicitly understood by contemporary audiences. In Goldfinger, Connery’s handsome, resourceful and collected Bond flagrantly dismisses women when he has to attend to ‘man talk’. He must also ironically resort to physically restraining himself from indulging in any sexual temptations.
This era of film strongly appealed to viewers who were looking for a respite from the pseudo-American toughness which was obligatory to male protagonist films of the 1960s, characterised by such movies as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke. We again see Bond’s tongue-in-cheek humour when he retorts “I must be dreaming” after being introduced to Goldfinger’s personal pilot Pussy Galore. This inability to refrain from speaking a man’s ‘inner monologue’ and his failure to accept Galore is unaffected by his charm, is characteristic of a man who is a product of a pre-feminist society.
Bond is a man who audiences are willing to accept can engage the problems of the world, can seduce any woman along the way, and win. Turn the clock forward to Casino Royale in 2006 and we find the birth of a new sophisticated, masculine yet emotionally vulnerable Bond. Craig transforms Bond into a man who has lost none of the wit, pithy comebacks or refined repertoire found in the Connery Bond. He is however no longer the emotionally detached killer depicted in Goldfinger. By 2006 he is a man who wears the burdens of his actions.
Bond is repeatedly subjected to the strict, almost dictatorial command of females such as M. Threatened to have his status of ‘00’ revoked and plainly exposed by M, where she states “utter one more syllable I’ll have you killed” Bond is displayed as almost a ‘liability’ to the British secret service. He is portrayed as a man who is driven to play by his own rules, yet still cautiously walks the line of bureaucracy; arguably a modern day J. Edgar Hoover. Upon meeting Vesper Lynd, the leading Bond girl of the film, Bond immediately engages her in hyper-critical verbal parry where each person attempts to uncover emotional experiences from the other’s past.
Their critical conversation reaches its climax when Bond replies “you’re not my type” to which Vespa retorts “smart” “single…” illustrating Bond is able to finish a conversation with no sexual resolve, depicting a man who is more interested in a mental challenge rather than a sexual resolution. A man who now could arguably live up to the elevated social expectations of women such as Germaine Greer.
This new Bond reflects the changes in societal attitudes when men are expected to be in touch with their inner selfs and their emotions, a trait which is mirrored in other contemporary films such as Bruce Willis’s Die Hard 4. . Although glamorous women are an essential part of the core formula, their portrayal has evolved over time in accordance with changing societal attitudes and beliefs displayed by contemporary audiences. Connery’s Bond in Goldfinger would be viewed today as nothing more than a misogynistic dinosaur who uses and objectifies women for no greater purpose than sexual pleasure. This is deliberately obvious within the first scene of Goldfinger where Bond seduces, and then uses a woman as a human shield whilst defending himself against his enemies; portraying her life as having less value and being more dispensable than his.
This objectification of women is again depicted by Goldfinger’s inauspiciously named pilot and commander of his female aerial squadron, blonde bombshell and judo expert Pussy Galore. She is a female who could be depicted more accurately as a coordinator of a burlesque troop rather than covert military operatives. Galore is blatantly explicit with Bond when she states “you can turn off your charm, I’m immune. ” Bond takes this sexual fend as a challenge rather than a rejection, as he continues to force himself upon her, highlighted by their fight and subsequent sexual interaction.
If this encounter was to be emulated in a modern film, today’s society would view this as unacceptable conduct, both verbally and physically, as it is blatantly offensive towards women’s rights. Whatever happened to no means no? This segment of Goldfinger however would have appealed to the contemporary era of a 1960s audience, as behaviour such as this was viewed as politically and socially correct, however not necessarily accepted, at that time. This objectification and stereotyping of women has been challenged in social and feminist movements from the late 1960s through to the present day.
Speakers such as Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi have inspired and enlightened women to demand equal rights and illustrated how they have previously been socially and physically dominated by men. Women are now well educated, self sufficient, authoritative and independent; exemplified by M’s statement in Casino Royale, “I report to the Prime Minister and even he’s smart enough not to ask me what we do. Have you ever seen such a bunch of self-righteous, ass-covering pricks? ” This obliterates the ideals that women need to be chaperoned by men in order to make executive decisions.
This new image of capable and headstrong women, symbolised by M and Vepser Lynd, is the defining statement from a post-feminist society. Portrayed not as a ‘disposable’ Bond girl, Vesper can be seen to reach a level of emotional attachment to Bond whereby she exposes a mutual vulnerability previously not depicted in earlier films. It is this human connection that a contemporary educated audience now expects. This mix of powerful yet emotionally susceptible women is also clearly paralleled in other contemporary movies such as the women of Sex and the City.
The adaptation, modification and the overall evolution of the James Bond franchise has always been in pursuit of the same goal; depicting a current, contemporary and desirable Bond for a modern audience. Just like the classic martini it is this core formula which has been enhanced and refined from 1962 to present. This ability to sustain the longevity of the franchise by appealing to the tastes of contemporary audiences is why Bond, the man of all the right words, the man with the ‘golden gun’ will continue to inspire and captivate audiences until the end of time.
Courtney from Study Moose
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