24 April, 2014

The Bond Legacy

For those wiling to ignore his alcohol-fueled misogyny, one of the longest standing criticisms leveled at James Bond is that he is not a very good secret agent.

Going back for another, huh Jimmie? Not like you're on the clock or anything.

It's certainly evidenced by own often he's captured by the enemy (from whom he then escapes due to their desire to out-do his own incompetence). It's also shown by how many of his comrades just seem to up and die. Or how many times he's been "killed" himself.

Like a lot of things with Bond, I was willing to ignore this for a long time. Nitpicking at plot points and worrying about realism in a James Bond movie is like complaining about how this Nutcracker Suite has simply too many arabesques. It's missing the point and, worse yet, it's the height of tedium. It's a movie. Better yet: It's a Bond movie. Some silly things are going to happen

That all changed when I started reading the books. After finishing Live and Let Die, I realize that it isn't a contrivance of the screenplay or an oversight of the director, it's is as much in James' blood as vodka.

Yeah, here's a guy with his priorities in line.
In Casino Royale, he doesn't kick down the door or save the day. He crashes his car (not due to his alcholism, mind you). He's then tortured, nearly castrated, and then by a Soviet secret agent, who basically lets James Bond live so he can appear in more books. James Bond is saved by his enemy. . . Who he then swears revenge on, because, again, he's probably blacked out and doesn't really remember exactly what went down.

In Live and Let Die this tradition is continued. Bond is, once again, captured by the enemy. They spare him the ball torture this time around in favor or keelhauling him until he's eaten by sharks. This time around there is one further evolution in Bond's dubious heroics, in that he actually does plant a mine on the villain's boat.

Aw, the rummy is all tuckered out!
But then he's saved by a shark. A SHARK.

The world's foremost secret agent and world-renowned pussy hound is saved by the chance happening of a shark arrival (which is described as an excited dog. I don't know. It was the 50's).

Bond doesn't so much uncover plots as he stumbles into them. Knocking them over like so many glasses of wine that he didn't see there. To quote Fleming (and, later on, M), he's a "blunt instrument." All of the bowties and Brioni suits are only there to disguise the fact that he's a wrecking ball. A drunken wrecking ball. There are census takers that are better spies than James Bond. It's probably why Hannibal Lector hates them so much.

James Bond is, was, and always will be a kind of crappy secret agent. I wouldn't have it any other way. . . I mean, barring the return of 1950's racism.

James Kislingbury writes comics and podcasts. You can follow him on twitter.