Over the years, I have almost perfected the James Bond fan role. It only takes a couple comments: ‘shaken not stirred’ when someone makes you a drink, or ‘you’re rocking the Bond suit’ when a housemate dresses up for the ball. It’s an easy role to play, because really, everybody has seen James Bond. Then last week I slipped up. I joined a conversation about Spectre and mentioned the fast cars, the explosions… and mini me. WRONG franchise! My secret was revealed: the closest I’ve ever come to watching James Bond was a themed casino night in my local village hall. Oh dear.
I was given a week – or be forced to sit through a marathon. With some reluctance, I supposed I should start with the first film in the five part series. Turns out there are twenty-four. Apparently, number 21-Casino Royale– is a great starting point. With some fantastic timing, it turned out The Silver Screen were showing a Bond Marathon in Hallward, and so I snuck in for my first experience with Bond.
For those of you select few who never got round to seeing it, Casino Royale is exactly like every Bond film you’ve ever heard about. I quickly realised it was no wonder that I was able to get away with blagging Bond for so long – it does exactly what it says on the tin. Guns, explosions, flash cars, smart suits and a misogynist lead. Wait that’s not right – he does have a female boss who he seems to respect… except for ignoring all her demands, requests and stealing all her personal information to break into her home and taunt her with her real name. Actually, he can keep the label.
Casino Royale takes Bond back to the very beginning of his career as a double-0 agent. From Uganda and Madagascar to Prague and Miami, this well-travelled MI6 spy tracks – and kills – leads on a giant cluedo hunt to the film’s antagonist: the asthmatic and gungy-eyed Le Chiffre. Casino Royale’s bad guy has got himself in a spot of hot water after investing over $100 million of world terrorism organisations’ money into stock- stock that he plans, through an elaborate plan evolving a plane and a tanker full of jet fuel. Bond saves the day (obviously) and Le Chiffre now owes a fair bit of money, money he decides to win back through poker. Which, as luck would have it, is one of James Bond’s specialisms. Armed with £10 million, a beautiful sidekick and a flashy, tech-filled car, Bond engages in an intense battle of wits where only one can win.
As a newbie to Bond, I was left a little disappointed. This series is thought to be as staple to Britain as a cup of tea, and yet it was no more remarkable than an average action film, but with less rounded characters. I wouldn’t label the film as ‘bad’ at all; at several points it was entertaining and enthralling. There were huge moments of suspense and it was easy to see how Bond’s character is attractive to both the male and female audience. Yet it could – and should – have been so much better.
Taking a moment to be a P.C. millennial writer, it was evident that the franchise followed Hollywood legacy by making any non-Caucasian character an antagonist or passing extra. Even in scenes set in Uganda or Madagascar, it was the white males who were there to sort the problems and take control. Bond even asserts his white dominance by entering an African embassy and attacking the workers inside whilst he chased his suspect – only to receive a slight admonishment from MI6.
Whole essays could be written on the female role in James Bond, but it can at least be argued that the writers made a (poor) effort to consider the female audience for Casino Royale. In one scene, Bond wins an antagonist’s car and money in a game of poker – he then decides to take the wife too. Because women are property, right? Bond also asserts on several occasions that his ‘type’ is married women, because he needs the satisfaction that he can take any man’s wife. From the moment we are introduced to the main female sidekick, I was internally groaning. She works for the treasury (shows women can have top jobs too), has an ‘aggressive, prickly demeanour’ (not all girls are sweet), finds time to look like she’s off to an award show (there’s no excuses, girls), all whilst wearing ‘masculine clothing’ (she’s not a girly girl) to show Bond he has met his match. It was like the writers had googled ‘strong woman’ and jammed it all into one conservational exchange. Then they reveal her name: Vesper. Like, the bike? Please don’t tell me it’s a direct reference to the main female being a vehicle. It’s either a poorly written joke at the Bond series’ expense or a reflection of what sells.
From predictable plot to two-dimensional characters, Bond really fails to live up to his name. At the minimum, Le Chiffre could have done some character research and learned how t4eo use the inhaler he was so keen at puffing in every scene. Bond’s pickup lines should have fallen on deaf ears, his invincibility should be worthy of a Marvel superhero film, and his poor conversational skills should leave him a social pariah. Perhaps the other twenty-three films will give an explanation for Bond’s popularity, but perhaps I’ll just pretend to have seen them instead.
Images from ‘Casino Royale’, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
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