Angry fans split over future of James Bond

Licence to thrill: Sean Connery smashed Daniel Craig and Roger Moore in a new poll

Should James Bond change with the times? As Hollywood producers ditch the iconic spy’s womanising ways for a more modern man, a new poll shows that fans still favour the old-fashioned 007.

In the orange glow of the firelight, Britain’s most famous spy is cradling the only mother figure he has ever known. As his MI6 boss, M, takes her last breath, James Bond reaches down and gently closes her eyes. A single tear rolls down his cheek.

Critics hailed M’s tragic death scene in Skyfall as the moment when Daniel Craig’s Bond finally began to shed his reputation as a Lothario and show emotional vulnerability.

Now, it appears that movie-goers have rejected this new Bond. A new poll of Radio Times readers has revealed that Sean Connery, the original 007, remains fans’ firm favourite. Craig, who is due to star in his final Bond film later this year, was eliminated immediately.

Bond’s emotional response to M’s death is far from the only change 007 has undergone in recent years. Gone are the days of Sean Connery’s suave one-liners and Roger Moore’s absurd exploits – in Octopussy, he defused a bomb while dressed as a clown.

With Daniel Craig as star, Bond has become a more serious character. He examines his childhood as an orphan. His classic Martini – “shaken, not stirred” – is replaced by a bottle of beer. There are even rumours that Bond will become a father for the first time when the next film is released later this year.

Commentators point out that – now, more than ever – change is needed for the franchise’s survival. For decades, the spy has been defined as much by his power over women as by his daredevil stunts. It is an image which is looking increasingly out-dated in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Even Craig himself seems to agree. “Bond has always adapted for the times [...]. We wouldn’t be movie makers or creative people if we didn’t have an eye on what was going on in the outside world,” said the actor last April.

Other big franchises have shown that leading characters can undergo a huge metamorphosis without undermining the storyline. In 2018, the first female Doctor Who, played by Jodie Whittaker, received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from fans. Despite producers’ fears, her first episode was actually the most viewed “new Doctor” debut in a decade.

Yet, for some die-hard Bond fans, his transformation is just too drastic. Millions flock to movie theatres to escape with the “elegant, seductive gentleman spy of our fantasies”, not to expose him as a tortured yet tedious victim of toxic masculinity, says British journalist Madeline Grant.

Grant believes Connery’s victory is a vital milestone in a mini culture war. “While elitists push for an ever-more tortured Bond, normies like me will seek solace in double-taking pigeons and exploding pens,” she says.

And while many agree that the portrayal of the so-called “Bond girls” must adapt with the times, not everyone thinks Bond himself should change.

“The important thing is that the film treats the women properly. Bond doesn’t have to. He needs to be true to his character,” said new 007 writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

So, should James Bond change with the times?

Harmless escapism?

Yes say some. The James Bond films must adapt if they are to remain relevant. The popularity of a TV show like Doctor Who – even after the main character swapped gender – shows that the James Bond writers can adopt 21st-Century moral standards without worrying about falling audience figures. The sexism of the 1960s’ 007 simply has no place in society today.

No say others. Bond is an enduring classic for a reason. It is his iconic image as a suave and sophisticated spy that draws millions to watch each new film. The Radio Times poll confirms what many already knew: fans do not like the new Bond. If he continues to change, they may decide to abandon him altogether. The franchise is in danger of losing touch with author Ian Fleming’s original creation.

You Decide

  1. Should the next James Bond be played by a woman?
  2. Should we judge fictional characters from the past by today’s moral standards?

Activities

  1. James Bond is famous for his gadgets – such as the explosive toothpaste or x-ray glasses. Design a new gadget for the next James Bond film, and make a drawing identifying all the hidden features.
  2. Which actor – male or female – do you think should be the next James Bond? Write half a side explaining your choice. Do they fit in with Bond’s traditional image, or would they bring something totally new to the role?

Some People Say...

“Bond has long been a national British treasure, but that doesn’t mean Bond is unproblematic.”

Dr Ian Kinane, Irish academic and editor of the International Journal of James Bond Studies

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most agree that despite the early James Bond films’ popularity compared to the recent additions, the female characters are rarely portrayed as 007’s equals. In fact, many scenes involving Connery’s Bond, such as when he forces a physiotherapist to kiss him in Thunderball, are today viewed as assault. According to culture writer Fiona Sturges, the “Bond girls” are “grown women and co-stars being relegated to the status of side-dish to the more robust and interesting main course”.
What do we not know?
Whether or not James Bond should be a role model for young boys today. One survey conducted just before the release of the last Bond film Spectre in 2015 found that only 33% of Britons think Bond is sexist, and only 21% see him as a “bad role model for young men”. However, Daniel Craig himself has described the character as a “misogynist” who is “very lonely”.

Word Watch

James Bond
The character was first created by author Ian Fleming in his 1953 book, Casino Royale. Since then, James Bond has been played by seven different actors in 26 films.
Lothario
A man who behaves selfishly and irresponsibly in an attempt to pursue women.
Suave
Charming and confident.
#MeToo movement
A campaign against sexual harassment and abuse often committed by people in positions of power. The movement took off after allegations of sexual abuse were made against American film producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017.
Metamorphosis
When a person or thing changes into something completely new or different.
Doctor Who
British TV series which first aired in 1963. Like the Bond series, the actor who plays Doctor Who has changed 13 times.
Toxic masculinity
A term often used to describe the negative aspects of exaggerated male traits – for example, the idea that men should not show emotions.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge
English actor, writer, and producer, best known as creator and star of comedy series Fleabag. She has insisted that she did not become part of the James Bond writing team to change how female characters are portrayed.

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