It always alarmed me when female friends of mine said they’d never seen a James Bond film. That was sacrilegious in my book. It was also completely unfathomable, as if they were telling me they’d never eaten a steak. I mean, the Bond franchise is an institution by now. How could anyone go so long without seeing at least one of the 22 films released since 1962? It’s like trying to hide from the sun.
It should go without saying at this point that I’m a Bond fanatic, having been practically weaned on the films since I was three. It can also probably be inferred that I awaited the release of “Quantum of Solace” like it was the Second Coming. Meanwhile, I still had people telling me they didn’t even know what “007” meant, which is about as blasphemous as it gets as far as I’m concerned.
Then I realized why Bond has escaped so many of my female peers: the character is nothing more than a male fantasy. He’s the guy so many men want to be — the classy badass who leads a life of danger, knows exactly what to say in any given situation, gets to play with slick gadgets, drives nice cars and always winds up with the girl at the end. Bond films are the male equivalent of chick flicks, which is why it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me that so many girls I knew couldn’t have cared less about them.
And all this relates to why “Quantum of Solace” has been getting so many negative reviews. Now, it would be presumptuous of me to throw pot-shots at a film that (amazingly enough) I still haven’t seen, but it’s clear from the backlash that the film tried to tweak the formula so many viewers have come to know and love. And I’m fine with that. After all, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who saw the very accomplished (if somewhat overrated) “Casino Royale,” which took the Bond mythos into far darker territory than it had been before.
Besides, maybe the formula needs a good tweaking. Sure, as with any long-running franchise, the Bond films haven’t survived for nearly five decades by constantly pushing boundaries. Instead, they have been successful for the very opposite reason. They’ve stuck with the same formula and delivered, film after film, exactly what viewers wanted: guns, gadgets and girls. But a little experimentation now and then certainly wouldn’t hurt.
No, my problem is not with the idea of changing the formula around. Instead, my concern is over what the filmmakers are doing to Bond. The real key to the series’s success is the fact that the films have stayed true to the image of the character as crafted not by Ian Flemming, but by Sean Connery, the original — and greatest — Bond. When filmmakers try to pry the character from Connery’s mold, viewers get defensive. It happened with the moody (and short-lived) Timothy Dalton, and it could very well happen to Daniel Craig. The gritty, unapproachable new Bond depicted in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” just hasn’t really clicked with a lot of audiences yet.
Many male viewers, consciously or not, watch the Bond movies because they admire the character himself. Messing with him is like defaming a beloved older brother. To put it into perspective for those girls who have never seen a Bond film: Imagine if the “Sex and the City” movie ended with Carrie Bradshaw selling all her shoes, ditching her boyfriend and joining a convent. Women everywhere would rain hell upon the producers.
What the two most recent Bond films have done is not as drastic, but it’s in a comparable vein. James Bond has always been stoic, suave and unbendable. Turning him into a kind of brooding, pouting killing machine just doesn’t seem … right.
So come next film, I hope the producers find their senses and go back to the old Bond so many know and love. If not, I’m afraid men everywhere may very well lose a respected icon for good.