Has adapted well to changing times
The very first Bond film, Dr No” premiered on this very day 50 years ago. A half-century later, as we await the 23rd installment of the franchise, “Skyfall,” on Nov. 9, it’s clear nothing can ever vanquish the series’ fetishistic allure. The Bond films were never narratives in the traditional sense, which explains their longevity: As much as twisty, winking spy capers, they were vehicles for conveying a singular material culture, defined by everything from Bond’s sunglasses and cigarette lighters to the women he fancied. The plot of “Quantum of Solace” was incomprehensible, its visual grammar an incoherent garble. So what? The important thing is that Daniel Craig instinctively knew how to wear those Tom Ford suits.
Even as the world’s most iconic spy turns 50, killjoys are moaning about how about James Bond should never have evolved into his modern avatar. But the Bond franchise has shown how survival – and success – truly belongs to the fittest, including those most able to adapt to change. When James Bond was launched in 1962 as Her Majesty’s ultimate tough guy, all cigarettes and sexiness, gizmos and guns, the world was a very different place.
Globally, nations were frozen in a tense Cold War manifesting itself in intricate networks of spies, lifting file-covers, weapon-covers – and bed-covers – to get to their opponent’s deepest secrets. Bond’s creator Ian Fleming knew this world well – he’d worked in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division during world War II and imbued Bond with all the hard cynicism, the ruthlessness – and style – of the post-War world. But despite coming from such a particular time, when jazz flowed in casinos and a gentleman was marked by his Martini, Bond didn’t stay frozen in time.
Instead, as geopolitics changed, Bond also changed, his bad guys and babes often reflecting how power was shifting from England towards America and later China, his struggles to save the world expanding from the West to the Middle East, North Korea, even outer space. Alongside, Bond reflected changing cultural mores too. By flaunting less sexism and more emotion, the character’s made a graceful nod to profound changes that have occurred in the way people think of women, different races, even of men. Managing such in-depth growth, along with retaining signature style, is a remarkably difficult job – but the Bond brand has pulled this off with tremendous flourish, making sure 007 doesn’t look like an archaic, predictable fogey amongst younger spies. And that’s kept Bond fans shaken and stirred.