• Bond: Class War

    by  • December 7, 2008 • Everything Else • 1 Comment

    I finally got around to seeing Quantum of Solace. Spoilerish micro-review continues after the most excellent alternative theme song. (via Jon)

    So Bond is really Britain’s equivalent to Uncle Sam. It hasn’t been John Bull for quite some time. As goes Bond, so goes the nation…

    Bond is a chav. He’s an ape in a tuxedo.

    He’s a guy who grew up eating spaghettios and canned ravioli, went into the military as a teenager, picked up a degree after his service was over and wound up in MI6 because he was still git hard and unfit for civilian life. He’s not to the manor Bourne, he’s working class. Yes he’s picked up some airs and graces, but his peculiar love of nice hotels and wrecking expensive things grew from poverty, not wealth. Long gone is the guy we knew who looked like a conductor and regarded physical violence as a threat to wardrobe.

    The guy’s a thug.

    Now this is not to say I don’t like Working Class Bond, but there are some serious questions about the degree to which it is the same character. He’s not the gentleman spy lowering himself to the affairs of the Empire out of a sense of duty (and maybe adventure.) He’s a career soldier. The uniform and the terrain have changed but he’s still career military rather than playboy adventurer.

    This turns out to matter because, in this context, bond isn’t a spy any more, he’s an assassin. Going back to the Roger Moore era, or even Connery, when Bond got into a fight he was effective, but it was improvised, quick-witted, intellectual fighting. Bond won because he was funny, fast and clever, and sometimes he lost (“no, Mr. Bond, I expect you to dieeeee.”) Working Class Bond is prepared to kill everybody in the room, trained to that effect, and performs that function with a mechanical bearing. He grinds out the math, and then his opponents, with a flawless, characterless grace. And this is the majority of what he does, for an entire movie. He goes to places where people will try and mug him, defeats them in combat, and asks the occasional survivors questions.

    Gone is the superscience, the gadget fetish, the space-based lasers. The opponents have become lifelike, mundane, in places bureaucratic in an all-too-human sense. There is no soviet nun with a stabby shoe. Even the girls have become realistic.*

    (* for Bond girls. I.e. they have names.)

    But is it good, you say? But is it good.

    Alas, no, it is not good. It is watchable. It is compelling. It is beautiful. It is enjoyable. It even has some depth in areas where previously Bond was a slab. It cuts through the myth of Sir James Bond, Aristocratic Defender of Empire and replaces him with Squaddie Bond. It accomplishes much.

    But it is not good. At no point does one simply say wow! and gape in wonder at what is on screen. The sense of scale which was a part of the best Bond movies is gone. And Bond himself is no longer a thinker who fights, he’s a killing machine with nice shoes.

    Can it be fixed? Light, such as it is, comes from Judi Dench’s M. M has assumed many of the old Bond’s cerebral functions, and is now a driver in the plot. M does things – shows up, makes decisions, gets shot at, interferes in ongoing processes, and has become a force in the narrative. And M is interesting in a way that Working Class Bond is not. She owes something to Le Carre’s George Smiley, and a little of that paranoia about who can be trusted inside the organization goes a long way to creating the potential for compelling drama in future outings.

    There is a lot to be said for M as the star. M has complexity, is vulnerable and yet far more dangerous than Bond, is nuanced and ponders. Working Class Bond in an instrument, and regardless of her background, M is The Establishment’s new cutting edge.

    The active, involved M who has assumed Bond’s strategic functions – who is female, who is beset by many of the concerns of Le Carre’s anti-Bond, George Smiley – is a fascinating character. She’s an innovation – a matriarchal defender, steeped in both traditional and novel forms of female power. As Bond more closely conforms to the stereotypes of the day, M breaks from the mold.

    M has a future. M has something to say. She probably won’t get to say it, but M and half a dozen 00-series agents is potentially a far more interesting show than one former SAS guy running around with an unlimited line of credit beating people up in beautiful places.

    Bond’s enemies were the brainless thugs being steered around by reclusive superbrains. Bond was special because he had both functions – he was the analyst and the executor. Those functions are split again in Working Class Bond, somewhat to the detriment of the story, but cat-and-mouse between M and her sworn enemies in other organizations… I’d pay to see that.

    Long live M!


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


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