Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Saying Goodbye to the Unquestionably Best James Bond

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Last week, English Actor Roger Moore passed away from cancer. And though I wish I could detail his full and successful career, I’d be lying to everyone if I pretended that I’ve seen him in anything other than his Bond films. However, much like Carrie Fisher being conflated with Princess Leia, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a negative. I’d argue that without Fisher playing that part, the Star Wars franchise would have fallen on its head. For Moore and James Bond? Well, he’s the only one that was able to make the damn role work.

Believe me, I know what this sounds like. Connery defined Bond, didn’t he? And Roger Moore was the secret agent that made drunk men look twice at their bottles with his complete lack of subtlety. Hell, even I thought of myself as a Brosnan fangirl through-and-through (being born in 1989 helps a lot in that regard).

The thing is though, after watching the soft-reboot through Daniel Craig’s movies over the past few years, along with meticulously rewatching The World is Not Enough and Goldeneye, it’s become increasingly apparent that Bond James Bond is a completely ridiculous character that simply cannot be brought into modern times. Even more, the already-existing films have aged absolutely horribly.

It’s not exactly a secret that misogyny and racism are features throughout most movies in this franchise. Connery will just slap the asses of the women he walks by without negative social feedback, most Bond girls are about as useful as a chocolate teapot (even the ones they try to make seem helpful) and instantly attracted to this asshole, and you only need to listen to about three seconds of Dalton talking about Afghani in The Living Daylights to become deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Honestly, you could go through every film and find at least one horrible implication or another. Often, they’re heaped on top of one another!

Yeah…this is not okay.

Then we’ve got the actual plots. Like, there’s a reason that “Bond Villain Stupidity,” along with those ridiculous, overwrought monologues, are considered tropes now. It’s almost a given that at some point, a villain or henchman will try to kill Bond in the most inconvenient, inefficient way possible, when they could have just fucking shot him. My favorite was probably Blofeld sending someone to slowly drip poison down a thread in You Only Live Twice, foiled when Bond…rolled over.

Then there’s just contrived levels of idiocy, like Elektra King dropping a completely loaded handgun to run (unarmed) up a stairwell so she can get away from Bond (who had been unarmed) in The World is Not Enough.

Even if we get past Bond’s not-remotely-veiled plot armor (remind me why Mr. White kept Bond alive in Casino Royale?), the objectives and methods of execution of the villains’ nefarious plots are almost always veering into the absurd. Of course Blofeld got plastic surgery to remove his earlobes so he can be recognized as a Count, with a contingency plan that a group of brainwashed women would destroy the world’s agricultural systems if his demands weren’t met. Of course Franz Sanchez dissolves cocaine into petrol and then pretends he’s selling fuel with a religious cult as his front and a televangelist as his middleman. Duh.

For some reason I’m of the impression that the Daniel Craig movies make more sense plot-wise, though that may be because I’ve never bothered rewatching them. The thing is, dark and gritty James Bond just…isn’t James Bond. Ian Fleming wasn’t writing dour slogfests for a reason. These movies were attempts to bring a character so painfully out-of-the-past into our time, and the end result was that Austin Powers was a more successful modernization of the character. Don’t get me wrong: these were visually stunning movies. But there needs to be a degree of spy-thriller camp. That’s the lifeblood of this franchise.

The issue is, under the majority of the Bonds, the movies feel like there’s an identity crisis. Connery is supposed to have a suave competence about him, but it’s against a backdrop of downright idiocy and a villain stroking a cat. Worse still, his obviously misogynistic lechery, while potentially appealing in the 60s, makes viewing him as a charming character today more or less impossible.

Let her collect her shells in peace!

Brosnan was a bit toned-down in this department, but his overall behavior is still incredibly concerning (no, you do not fuck the MI6 doctor to get a clean bill of health), and because it’s not as abrasive, it almost seems oddly endorsed by the narrative. Sure, M gives him a dressing-down worthy of Judy Dench:

“Because I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though lost on me, obviously appealed to that young girl I sent out to evaluate you.”

But then he’s obviously her favorite agent anyway, so we’re just left at this awkward place of, “yeah this is how he uses women, but the job gets done!”

Timothy Dalton seems like he’s about three clicks away from an anger-induced stroke at all times. I’m not sure I could pick out George Lazenby from a hole in the wall, and the only thing I remember about his portrayal of the role was when he shoved an enormous gob of caviar in his mouth, barely choking out the line, “Mmm, Beluga.”

No, this gets down to what James Bond is as a concept: a secret agent man who will face off against absolutely exaggerated villains while women throw themselves at him for blinking. And the only way to make that concept remotely palatable today is to have someone that completely leans into it for the farce that it is.

Not sure if unconventional spy…or ironic commentary on tropes

Nothing about Roger Moore’s James Bond screamed “serious spy.” This is the guy who let out a Tarzan-style yell when he swung from a vine as he was trying to sneakily escape into the jungle. There’s nothing about Roger Moore that even sells him as a lady’s man, if I’m being perfectly honest.

The good news is, the movies don’t even bother selling that point either. Maud Adams tells Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun that she’s “always dreamed of him setting her free” before their first time together. She is…the random girlfriend of a bounty hunter. Why would she know anything about MI6’s 00-agents? It’s just so obtusely unearned that for the viewer, it reads like a parody. Of course Bond was able to woo Jane Seymour into bed by purchasing 78 sets of tarot cards (all of the same brand that she used, somehow) and assembling a full deck of “The Lovers.” And of course in doing so, he banged away her magic powers. By the time we get to A View to a Kill, where a 58-year-old is effortlessly picking up a 30-year-old Tanya Roberts, one can only abandon oneself to a mirth that transcends, perhaps, the seemly.

There’s no denying that Moore’s movies are steeped with misogyny and racism, and that’s of course nothing to be forgiven or dismissed. However, even here the franchise is at its absolute worst in these two departments, to the point where it almost seems like they are Flanderizing these elements for comedic effect. Every single black person in Live and Let Die is trying to kill Bond at all times, with the exception of the one black woman who is so incompetent and/or wooed by him that she’s unable to go through with it. In The Man with the Golden Gun, Goodnight nearly blows the entire mission when her butt hits a switch that activates a laser. And never forget, the words “That’s my little octopussy” were uttered in complete sincerity.

In terms of “iconic Bond moments,” Connery does have Goldfinger, and we’ll give him that. But Moore is the stuff of Jaws. He’s the guy with the ski-chase that ends with his union jack parachute opening off a cliff. Holly Goodhead helps him take over a shuttle in space. Christopher Walken fights him on a blimp while May Day decides to turn good below. Christopher Lee walks around with three nipples and a gun made out of a lighter and pen.

The only vaguely forgettable Moore film was For Your Eyes Only, and that at least featured this poster:


It’s just… a farse.

Don’t even get me started on the logistics of each plotline, because it’s going to take a while to unpack the traveling circus/faberge egg smugglers getting in on the Soviets stealing a bomb game.

In the end, it simply doesn’t matter that Roger Moore’s films don’t make sense and cannot be taken seriously, because James Bond as a character in the 21st century doesn’t make sense and cannot be taken seriously. So at least treat yourself with the Bond that offers high entertainment in some of the best spy-comedies available, and let Moore be remembered fondly as the man who brought us this light-hearted enjoyment.

Images courtesy of United Artists

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