Fifty Years Of Bond

With James Bond hitting the half century, we thought it was time to take a look at what makes the Bond series so invincible.

Whether he be powering around the streets of Monte Carlo in the southern French sunshine, in his sleak, gleaming Aston Martin sports car. Or swooning the latest sophisticated leading lady to succumb to his ever present charm, there’s no denying that British secret agent James Bond has come to epitomise the meaning of stylish action to our cinema screens for the last half a century. Even when the series has suffered the odd setback or two from studios and the main man himself has been played by six different actors, the films have still been able to grow down the years into a huge national institution, a symbol of British culture and formed it’s own sub genre in mainstream film making.

It should be celebrated therefore that this massive known worldwide character is one of our own, protecting her majesty’s land and putting his life on the line for England herself. Being an essential vehicle for showcasing British screen talent, the Bond series has certainly boosted many homegrown actors careers to worldwide stardom. It’s common knowledge that everyone will have their favourite, each generation growing up with either Sean Connery’s cool looks, Roger Moore’s charm or even Daniel Craig’s heartfelt portrayal. But just like coming accustom to your favourite rock star or sportsman, each Bond should be applauded for their time in the limelight by all generations and any comparisons can just simply be put to one side.

But just as everyone has their favourite Bond, everyone has their favourite instalment. Anything with spectacular action topping most people’s lists wouldn’t come as a surprise  But the real successful chapters in 007’s story is when he’s dealt with themes of loss, hurt, love and finding his true identity. Yes, it’s alright when he’s saving lives but once people are dragged into his world of unknown danger, there becomes a sense of peril and fear for the vulnerable character he’s tied with. That’s why I’d always consider gems such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale as times when Bond has had to put aside his lavish lifestyle and deal with people’s emotions and consequences. Always the best Bond’s need to mix style with soul; danger with despair; luxury with loss.

Surely the greatest impact the franchise has made is it’s fantastical quality. Producing iconic characters and set pieces that capture the imagination, Bond is top of the list when it comes to plausible masculine escapism. It ticks the right boxes of wanting to live out an extraordinary lifestyle in which your job consists of flying around the world in first class, drinking champagne with exotic girls and driving the fanciest cars. However, whilst there is the fun aspect, the series has still managed to revolutionise each time it’s take on subjects such as unethical politics, corruption and terrorism within it’s fifty years. And all within an action sub genre; incredible.

Yet that sub genre approach is quite simple within each of the stories. A simple recipe that almost becomes the blueprint for every film maker tasked with each next instalment. Have yourself a jaw dropping opening that may only push the plot forward a little, a grand theme song showcasing our heroes bravery, a meeting of minds with the eventual villain over a spot of poker. Get your intelligence together, escape your villains evil contraption, rescue the gorgeous girl whilst halting any plan of world domination and there you have it, a subversive action setup unlike any other.

You’d think when a sub genre like Bond has to stick close to it’s rules, audiences would come out hungrier for more and demanding reinvention. But the unique aspect is that the series will forever be unashamed in nodding back to it’s starting routes, whilst at the same time reinventing itself to fully utilise it’s place in world history. Clothing, architecture, technology, gadgets and more importantly: peoples’ attitudes, have all long since changed the world since Bond’s first outing back in the early 60’s. But with each film mixing it’s conventional sub genre story telling, with that essence of it’s setting, each chapter of Bond’s adventures plays out like a two hour snapshot to each generation of audiences of how the world once was.

Keeping that unique plot whilst exploiting it as time itself passes by will mean the franchise will simply continue to grow on it’s own. Even when our neighbours from across the pond may have persisted with similar explosive action series to be their equivalent of Bond such as Die HardMission Impossible or the Bourne series, the suave spy still comes through and stands tall, even against the might of Hollywood. Having already laid down it’s iconography of the cars, the girls, the villains and the songs, it’s an almost impossible task to ever conceive of another franchise coming close to the fame it’s had.

Who knows how the Bond series would play out should it continue for the next fifty years, but one things for sure about Britain’s spying hero, in the words of Carly Simon’s infamous ballad for The Spy Who Loved Me.. nobody does it better.

Happy birthday James.

(Skyfall is out in cinemas: 26th October)