When I look at my media consumption over the past year or so, I feel like I’ve been on a long journey of just Getting Attached To Guys. Ever since I first discovered the Ciaphas Cain novels last fall, I keep getting into more and more series in which central male protagonists always save the day. Another big one for me was historical fiction hero Richard Sharpe, of the beloved 90s TV series and a 20+ novel saga that I’ve just finished powering through. Amidst all of that, I’ve also found the time to develop a soft spot for Cain’s fellow commissar Ibram Gaunt of Gaunt’s Ghosts (I just painted a set of miniatures of him and his best soldiers), as well as the eponymous Scotland Yard inspector of John Sinclair: Demon Hunter (available for sale now from J-Novel Club with quality assurance provided in part by my good friend Bishounen-P). But while I started with Ciaphas Cain, a hero who continually downplays his own accomplishments and insists he’s a lot more selfish than he really is, I seem to have now found myself unwittingly falling for his polar opposite: a smug scoundrel who commits all kinds of horrible crimes while the franchise he stars in nonetheless tries to convince you that he’s the best and coolest guy ever. And it’s working, because I love him. I love James Bond now. I don’t know how that happened.
I watched one of the older James Bond movies once with a group of people in my dorms when I was in college. I’m not sure which one—it might have starred Sean Connery? I don’t remember much of what happened in it because it was a long time ago and I was also probably drunk. What I do remember is just a vague sense of it having been uncomfortably racist and sexist, and also the moment when one young man turned to me with a completely solemn and serious expression on his face to declare, “This is what movies used to be like before feminists ruined them.” As a result of that unpleasant experience, I lived through many of the following years with the impression that the James Bond movies are mostly offensive garbage—and I’m not here today to say that I was necessarily wrong about that. As a whole, this is in fact a franchise that at least in part functions as British military propaganda, as well as enforcing some harmful societal ideals about masculinity and a whole host of other problems. (And if you want to hear some very thorough and also very funny analysis about that, I highly recommend the podcast Kill James Bond!) But the thing I missed out on that night—perhaps because I was watching the wrong movie, with the wrong people, and mixing my cheap vodka with the wrong other ingredients—was that also, some of them absolutely fucking rule.
I started really getting into the James Bond movies more recently with Goldeneye, which I was initially only interested in because it co-stars my absolute favourite actor, Sean Bean. He plays former agent 006, Alec Trevelyan, who (spoilers) appears to die in the opening scene only to turn out to have faked his death to escape MI6 and begin enacting a massive revenge plan against the British government for the deaths of his parents. He’s fantastic, and he even has an awesome villain train like in another favourite of mine. But more importantly, there’s something really compelling about the relationship he and Bond have that drew me in on a deeper level—beyond just appreciating the action scenes and the handsome men in them. At the beginning of the film, our hero is struggling to adjust to a post-Cold-War world that’s dramatically altered his life and work, and then here’s this ghost of his past who shows up—someone he used to care about and thought he had lost. And he finds out that not only did he secretly survive, but he was also never the person he seemed to be in the first place! The more I thought about that, the more it gradually dawned on me that goddammit, this movie fucking got me. I care about it on some level—it made me care about James Bond.
There’s a part in the next one, Tomorrow Never Dies, where Pierce Brosnan’s Bond kills a guy by shoving him into a newspaper printing press, and then as he stands there calmly looking at the blood-covered newspapers coming out of the machine, he quietly quips to himself, “They’ll print anything these days.” There isn’t even anyone else around—he’s saying that for his own amusement. And the more of these movies I watched, the more I fell in love with the little moments like that. I’m so amused by the whole concept that this suave and skilled secret agent also has a penchant for making the silliest jokes—the kind you’d roll your eyes at if your friend said anything like it—and he can’t stop. He does it all the time even if he’s the only one laughing. It’s such an incredibly endearing and relatable character trait. Much more than any of the parts where he’s supposed to be cool or attractive, the ridiculous jokes are what kept me watching.
The four Brosnan films hooked me so thoroughly that by Die Another Day, I was knocking back vodka martinis and cheering wildly at absolute nonsense like invisible cars. (I also purchased a cocktail shaker just for the occasion, because I figured I might as well commit to the bit.) I wasn’t as big a fan of all the more recent films after that, because I felt like in making an attempt to be more serious, they dropped a lot of the fun while still keeping some of the franchise’s overall flaws. But at the same time, I appreciated the emotional depth that Daniel Craig brought to the character, and I was happy to be able to see No Time To Die in the theatre with a friend once I was all caught up. I’m not sure where the series is going next, but I’m looking forward to finding out—and I actually think I’m going to go back and check out some of the older ones again after all. As critical as I might end up being, I imagine I’ll also find something to enjoy in any story about this character I’ve ended up developing a lot of affection for. And besides, if any of them turn out to be really bad, I’ve got the ingredients for more than enough vodka martinis to dull the pain—it turns out I honestly really enjoy those too.