Neither shaken nor stirred

Forget Q, tits, ass, Aston Martins, cocked eyebrows and post-killing quips: Bond’s been in therapy.

Emily Hill

Topics Culture

Forget everything you know about James Bond. It’s all wrong. And while you’re at it, you can forget everything you know about Bond films as well.

In his twenty-first outing, Casino Royale, all the pretty ladies in the cheesy opening sequence have been replaced by Bond himself, strutting about in a poker montage shooting limpid red hearts out of a little black gun. The Bond girl in the busting bikini is replaced by Daniel Craig’s gleaming physique bulging out of the waves in tidy whities. Nudity? It’s all Craig, being whipped in a homoerotic manner, while the villain compliments him on his well-honed buttocks (‘Wow, you have looked after yourself.’) The hi-tech gadgetry is pared down to a lone defibrillator; the killing is followed, not with a cavalier quip, but with Bond’s agonised sigh and a spell sitting in the shower, thinking long and hard about what he’s done. It would seem that Bond’s been in therapy. These days he drives a Ford, goes to the gym, and falls in love with his accountant.

As far as Casino Royale is concerned, the previous 20 entries in the Bond franchise have not happened. A note about this might have been helpful in the opening credits because I must confess, after the film ended, I had to download a plot synopsis from the internet in order to understand what in the hell was going on. Why was Bond suddenly taking fright at the prospect of meaningless sex? Why was Judi Dench’s M muttering something about awarding Bond double 0 status when he’s had double 0 status for the past 40 years at least?

The trick might have worked if they’d got rid of Judi Dench and replaced her with another politically correct master spy, but you can’t make a break with everything that’s gone before and have the same actor playing a major character. When it comes to Bond in the noughties, it seems, you can get rid of Q, tits, ass, Aston Martins, John Barry, cocked eyebrows and suavity, but you cannot do without Dame Judi.

But it’s not only Bond who’s acting like a damp dishrag. The villains are watered down, too. Instead of a Dr No or Blofeld we have Le Chiffre, an asthmatic banker with an eye that bleeds when he’s under pressure. When Le Chiffre’s not playing cards, he’s ordering thwarted terrorist attacks and getting beaten up by big, bad Africans. The plot, although it gets off to a racy enough start, is also lacklustre in execution and goes on about half an hour too long. After a brief spurt of ridiculous chasing through a building site, and a high-tempo thwarting of said terrorist attack, the film settles into a nice long poker session, which cripples any pace, and makes you feel that, by comparison, an episode of Countdown is really nail-biting.

In fact, the one moment of tension seems to double up very neatly with this week’s government-sponsored health initiative telling people how to recognise when they’re having a heart attack. These days, even Bond can be the victim of a dodgy ticker.

Some other PC twists are marshalled in to reenergise the franchise for the new generation. A black Felix Leiter turns up at the poker table and introduces himself as ‘a brother from Langley’. We wait the whole film for Bond to order a dry vodka martini and when he finally does, the barman asks whether he wants it shaken, not stirred. ‘Do I look like I give a damn?’ Bond barks, failing to arch a satirical brow.

All in all, this new breed of Bond is rather a dull beast. As an action movie the film is competent, but it is not very like James Bond. Ian Fleming plots just don’t transfer particularly well when you can’t conjure up anybody more threatening than a sweaty asthmatic banker as the super villain. And although the new breed of ‘sensitive’ hero has worked in Superman and Spiderman, it’s no good for Bond, whose whole point is the antithesis of caring, sharing new-man sensitivity. He is the flag-flying, martini-sipping, gun-toting, parachuting, womanising embodiment of the British stiff upper lip and it is our patriotic duty to endure his bone-dry quips and ridiculous stunts thrice a decade.

‘Christ, I miss the Cold War’ sighs M, at Bond and his recent escapades. Don’t we all?

Emily Hill works at spiked.

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