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Is James Bond still relevant?

Daniel Craig disagrees with critics who say next 007 should be a woman

After more than a year and a half of pandemic-related delays, the latest James Bond film will finally hit the big screen next Thursday. 

No Time to Die, the 25th instalment in the spy movie franchise, will be Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007. But while speculation abounds about who will replace him, many critics are asking whether Bond has any role to play in the 21st century.

Time to die?

“When Bond was created, the Cold War had only just begun, and Britain was slowly coming to the realisation that it was no longer a world power,” wrote Tim George for Den of Geek back in 2018, before production of what was then known as “Bond 25” had kicked off.

The world-famous superspy was his creator Ian Fleming’s “answer to this national decline”, George argued. But in the intervening decades, “the character of Bond and the context around him” has needed to change in order to maintain the franchise’s popular appeal - a challenge that has left Bond film-makers wrestling with the conundrum of “how this guy fits into the modern world”. 

Clearly, “the sexist selling strategy” of the classic Bond films of the past is ill-suited to modern sensibilities, wrote Shaurya Thapa for Screen Rant.

Bond was “always shown as a womaniser, with his Bond Girls often reduced to nothing more than eye candy”, she continued. The older films are packed with “predatory scenes”, such as when Bond forcefully kisses a female physiotherapist in Thunderball (1965) and when he forces himself on Pussy Galore after a “playful fight” in Goldfinger (1964). 

But in truth, “the early Bond films were considered problematic long before the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns - and not just for their celebration of sexist attitudes”, wrote The Guardian’s Ben Child. 

Live and Let Die (1973) “would be one of the better 007 movies were it not for its casually racist and ham-fisted riff on blaxploitation”, he continued, while Dr No (1962) has equally “jawdropping” moments, such as when Bond orders John Kitzmiller’s black Cayman Islander Quarrel to fetch his shoes. 

“If we do enjoy Bond for his dark side, perhaps it is time to accept that this most enduring of characters no longer fits the archetype of a hero,” argued Child.

“It would be much easier to accept his spiky edges if the dapper secret agent were not sold as the epitome of British suavity and a role model for young men.” Bond is intended to be an “aspirational figure”, but he “simply doesn’t fit the mould in the modern era”.

007's behaviour ‘wouldn't fly today’

The director of the latest bond movie, Emmy award-winning film-maker Cary Fukunaga, has publicly addressed the issue of Bond’s problematic history.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter recently, he said: “Is it Thunderball or Goldfinger where, like, basically Sean Connery’s character rapes a woman? She’s like ‘no, no, no,’ and he’s like ‘yes, yes, yes.’ ​​​​

“That wouldn’t fly today.”

In a bid to rewrite the Bond narrative, Fukunaga enlisted Fleabag writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge to help flesh out a cast of strong female characters in the latest flick. 

“You can’t change Bond overnight into a different person,” he told the magazine. “But you can definitely change the world around him and the way he has to function in that world.

“It’s a story about a white man as a spy in this world, but you have to be willing to lean in and do the work to make the female characters more than just contrivances.” 

Ms Bond, I presume?

As Craig retires from his spy duties after five Bond films spanning 15 years, fans and critics worldwide are wondering who will succeed him. But while many have suggested that the next 007 should be played by a women, or by a non-white actor, Craig doesn’t agree.

“There should simply be better parts for women and actors of colour,” he argued during a recent Radio Times interview. “Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, but for a woman?”

That view has been echoed by the London Evening Standard’s Emma Loffhagen. “I do understand the allure of wanting women to be able to play iconic characters, but something about ‘Jane Bond’ does feel lazy and uncreative,” she wrote.

“I am just not particularly fussed about taking a chauvinistic male character and having a woman play it,” she added. “We are better and far more interesting than that.” 

A question mark also hovers over “how long Bond can remain a big screen-only behemoth in the streaming-centric era of content overload”, wrote film critic Katie Rosseinsky in the same paper.

But British Film Institute CEO Ben Roberts shrugged off such concerns, arguing that the Bond team are “very good at keeping it feeling fresh and relevant, presenting it to an audience that can grow into it”.

“I think they’ve managed to keep it feeling very ‘need to see’,” he told the Evening Standard. 

All the same, wrote Rosseinsky, “dragging Britain’s cinemas out of the Covid doldrums is probably Bond’s toughest mission yet - and the entire industry will be watching on the edge of their seats to see if 007 can pull it off”. 

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