The transformation of the secret agent

The James Bond films have always reflected the spirit of the times, political correctness. As this has changed over time, film versions of Ian Fleming's novels have been adapted.

José M. García Pelegrín-December 9, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes

The Cold War was the perfect breeding ground for spy or agent movies. Besides, for example, those based on novels by the recently deceased John Le Carré (1931-2020) like The spy who came in from the cold (1965), the films starring James Bond, the character created by Ian Fleming (1908-1964), stand out above all. The aura of their works is largely due to the fact that both Le Carré and Fleming worked in the secret services - British the former, American the latter - during World War II or precisely during the Cold War. 

Fleming wrote twelve novels and nine short stories with James Bond as the protagonist; but he really became famous with the films, especially with those made by the production company Eon Productions, which -although two independent films and an adaptation of Fleming's first novel were also produced- are the ones considered "canonical" or classic: with the last released No time to die (2021) are 25, from Dr. No (1962). In these almost 60 years, they have been interpreted by seven actors; the last five, from Casino Royale (2006), by Daniel Craig, who even before the filming of the No time to die had announced that it would be his last appearance as Agent 007 "with license to kill". Although in these six decades -depending also on the interpreter- the figure of James Bond has been transforming, it has always done so according to political correctness.

In the first film adaptations, James Bond appears as a modern "gentleman without blemish". The films reflect the technical progress, the fondness for luxuries of the increasingly affluent society since the 1960s, but also the sexual revolution. The fact that Ian Fleming was a technophile is materialized in the sophisticated technical devices and weapons with which Bond is equipped by Quartermaster "Q".  

If James Bond reflects all kinds of pop culture trends, "Agent 007" has also influenced it, whether through the popularity of the "Bond car", an Aston Martin DB5, or the cocktail "Vodka Martini: shaken, not stirred". The way of introducing himself: "My name is Bond, James Bond" or rather "The name is Bond, James Bond" is also widely known.

A "villain" or "bad guy" forms an essential part of a James Bond novel or film. As befits the Cold War film genre, the quintessential enemy is the Soviets. Once the Iron Curtain opened, that seems to have become obsolete - although the division of the world is still there - so this role was taken over particularly by the secret organization "Spectre" (this is also the title of the penultimate film, number 24), made up of gangsters and members of extreme political organizations, or also simply villains who want to destabilize the West or take over the world.

Not surprisingly, however, the end of the Cold War was accompanied by a decline in popularity and an identity crisis for James Bond. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that from 1962 to 1989, 16 James Bond films were made, but only nine since 1989. Both the figure of Agent 007 and the "James Bond film" had to be reinvented. It took six years - never before had so much time elapsed between two films - before after License to kill (1989), the last film with Timothy Dalton, the first of four films was shot with his successor Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye (1995). However, that did not mean any substantial change in terms of the figure of James Bond.

A genuine new beginning only came about when the seventh "canonical" James Bond actor, Daniel Craig, took over. Especially significant is the fact that the first Bond film of the Craig era was based on Ian Fleming's first novel, Casino Royalewritten in 1953: after 20 Bond films in 44 years, the producers hit the "stop" button. reset and retell the Bond story from the beginning. In this context it is very expressive the sigh of Bond's boss, "M" (played by Judi Dench), in one of the first scenes: "I miss the Cold War". 

In this sentence, "M" sums up the anachronism of Casino RoyaleWhile the novel takes place in the early 1950s, the world depicted in the film is contemporary, despite the fact that it narrates the beginnings of the Agent. One detail: instead of the Aston Martin DB5 that appears for example in Goldfinger (1964), Daniel Craig drives an Aston Martin DBS, which would not be officially presented until after the film's release. Not only here, Casino Royale presupposes that the viewer is familiar with the character's history.

A first aspect that is striking in the "new" Bond is that the staging of both fights and chases and other action scenes is obviously influenced by the films of the "Bourne" saga. However, this influence is not limited to the aesthetics of this new beginning of the "Bond film"; it is also seen, for example, in the doubts that assail Bond in relation to the correctness of his performance and even in that he suffers a certain identity crisis. One could speak of a "more real, more human" James Bond.

In those 44 years from the first Bond film to the first one played by Daniel Craig, times had changed considerably, something that is especially noticeable in Agent 007's relationship with women: the James Bond played by Sean Connery and Roger Moore is "womanizing" in a sense that today is considered macho or even sexist, whether Sean Connery finds pleasure in using physical and sexual violence against women or Roger Moore makes sexist remarks. The old playmates or primarily sexual objects have become not only flesh and blood women, in a situation of full equality with men, but even "empowered": in the latest Bond films, the blowjobs are shared equally by men and women. As in other action films or thrillersThe melee knows no gender. In the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said Julian Dörr: "The role of the British secret agent is a mirror of masculinity and its transformation through the ages. One can read in it an evolution from patriarchal omnipotence to the modern crisis of the masculine".

But political correctness goes further: parallel to the Jason Bourne movies or contemporary superhero movies in general, the hero and the villain look more and more alike; the "bad guy" of the movie appears as a tragic anti-hero; the "good guy" has to fight against his own demons. When it saw the light of day in theaters Skyfall in 2012, its director Sam Mendes described James Bond in the following words: "He has his own inner demons, but he doesn't externalize them; however, the audience has to be aware that they are there, which is especially true in our film: in SkyfallThe audience witnesses Bond fall to pieces to put himself back together again".

Times have changed; but what hasn't changed is that James Bond films reflect the spirit of the times in a particularly striking way.

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