Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Best Character Ever 22: James Bond

Bond. James Bond. It is a name synonymous with English language culture. Over twenty movies after Sean Connery first donned a tux to bring the character to life in Dr. No, he has become one of the most beloved characters in the history of entertainment.

Through the years, Bond has been brought to life by a half dozen actors of varying ability. Connery wasn’t the actual first. That honor actually goes to Barry Nelson, an American actor on the 50s television anthology show Climax!, where he played “Jimmy Bond”. But he set up the look and style of the character for decades to come.

Since that time, the question of who is the best James Bond floats through the ether of everyday conversation and internet argument. Sean Connery, Daniel Craig and Pierce Brosnan all have a strong contingent of backers. Roger Moore, the longest running Bond, often ends up as something of a red-headed stepchild while George Lazenby is barely an after-thought. But none are my favorite Bond. No, the best Bond is often the most derided: Timothy Dalton.

Dalton came to the character right after Roger Moore and his movies came with an instant tonal shift. The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill are not the wild campy rides of Moore’s era. They are dark, gritty Cold War tales that feature really threats and limited gadgets. James Bond is a cold-blooded killer, but still our moral compass through a world where no one is someone we really want to root for. Over the fifty years of James Bond films, these two come the closest to Ian Fleming’s originals. If you haven’t watched them, give them a shot, especially if you’re a fan of Casino Royale or Skyfall.

Talking all the different James Bond actually brings up my favorite aspect of the character, one that always surfaces every time Bond is recast. A theory has been around for decades that all James Bond movies are in continuity and that the name and number are passed from agent to agent as one retires or dies. This creates a fascinating continuity akin to some of the craziest comic book universes. It’s also an idea that if I ever wrote a James Bond novel, I would definitely put into play.

Here is my personal James Bond timeline:

  • 1962-1968: The first 007 is actually named James Bond. He comes into operation and takes on the forces of SPECTRE. Injured in battle, he temporarily retires.
  • 1969-1970: A new Bond takes the place of the original, but his wife is quickly killed at the hands of SPECTRE agents. His quest for vengeance leads to horrible injuries that leave him badly scarred.
  • 1971: With a need for a 007 active, the recovered first Bond returns. His work is short lived though and he quickly is retired. The resurfacing of SPECTRE in the early 80s brings him back into operation, temporarily giving the world two active Bonds.
  • 1972-1985: After experimental plastic surgery, the second Bond returns to duty with a new face. He would quickly become an expert agent, now regularly towing the party line for M and the Special Service.
  • 1986-1990: A hard-nosed military veteran becomes the third man to take the Bond name after the previous Bond is forced into retirement. He is much less concerned with materialism than previous 007s, but his hard-nosed views clash with those of M.
  • 1993-2005: After two years without an active Bond, a fourth Bond is brought in to the Special Service. In the post-Cold War era, he faces far different threats and spends much of his time jet-setting rather than in active service.
  • 2006-present: After the previous Bond is forced into retirement, the fifth and current James Bond becomes active. In the post-9/11 world he is far more tactile an operative than previous 007s. The nephew of the original Bond, he also carries the birth name James Bond. (Feel free to insert all his young adventures as James Bond Jr . if you would like.)

I love playing these kind of Wold Newton games with literary figures and Bond started that for me. That alone makes him an important addition to this list.

Currently, Daniel Craig may or may not have filmed his last Bond with Spectre. After that, it could go to anyone. (Idris Elba is my choice for Bond 6 though.) If Craig leaves, I look forward to building the growing narrative of multiple Bonds.

Oh, and anyone that spends time debunking the theory (like the folks that made Skyfall), should stop. Have fun and live a little.

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