For me the defining moment came when I saw a semi-naked Daniel Craig rise up from the waves and walk towards the screen. Those pouting lips, tight trunks, reasonably chiselled body, glistening water droplets, all framed against the azure ocean made for pure eye candy. Freeze frame, rewind, repeat.
Even though Craig was voted sexiest man alive, I still maintain that Pierce Brosnan was sexier. But Craig’s Bond showed melting sensitivity. He actually looked like he loved the girl instead of merely playing with her. Compare that with Sean Connery—he of the sensuously curved lips. Connery appeared so condescending with his “girls” that you wanted to hit him with a dustpan. He would kiss them, the picture would fade and the next scene would be somewhere in Namibia. Bed the girl and jet off somewhere was the standard thing for 007.
Even though I am an action film junkie, I am not a huge fan of James Bond films mostly because they lack humour. Beyond the occasional British pun, which goes over my head anyway, there is little that is funny about Bond. For my money, I’d rather watch Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis indulge in their juvenile romps and non-stop swearing in the Lethal Weapon and Die Hardseries respectively. But I do watch Bond. I like the more recent ones for one simple reason: feminism. Most of the old Bond movies objectify women to such an extent that it is hard for a feminist like me to watch them.
Feminism is a much misunderstood and maligned word all over the world. As a product of Mount Holyoke College however, it is difficult for me not to be one. In Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts where I was an impressionable undergrad student, the answer to a question like, “Are you a feminist?” was a matter-of-fact “Of course”. Even the male professors at Amherst College were feminist. As a result, much of their attitudes and values are background music in my thoughts and they form the lens through which I view the world. I am not hard core though. Most feminists hate Die Hard and Lethal Weapon saying that they play into stereotypes. I don’t agree. Rene Russo is one strong cop and Bruce Willis’ wife in Die Hard 2 is no slouch either. With Bond, the women are objectified to such an extent that you almost want to burst out laughing. I mean, did the producers actually know what they were doing?
The mentality: Connery was condescending, Brosnan sexy, but Craig (above) is sensitive.
Yes, yes I know. To politicize Bond is not the point. You have to suspend your beliefs in order to enjoy his movies. And I do. The lovely locales, the boat-chases, the blond bombshells, the casinos are all great visual treats. But the one thing lacking in the Bond franchise was the romantic angle. Perhaps the producers thought it unnecessary. Or perhaps they simply hadn’t paid attention to it, focusing instead on the fights, the cars, the locations and the girls. Why mess with success, they must have thought. But tinkering with Ian Fleming’s original resulted in one of the best things that happened to Bond movies: Dame Judi Dench playing a fantastic “M”. Dench is so memorable that she has successfully erased the previous M from public memory.
My favourite Bond is Daniel Craig. Roger Moore was so effeminate that I couldn’t bear to watch him. The rest were also-rans and didn’t last longer than a couple of films. It was only after Pierce Brosnan came on the scene that things got interesting. Halle Berry was both breathtakingly beautiful and black. Michelle Yeoh had a strong role that forced viewers to take her seriously. The villains moved from Eastern Europe to Korea offering a more global palate. In terms of villains, the nice thing about Bond movies is that they don’t stereotype. Each villain isn’t a cocaine kingpin in Latin America for instance. They choose their bad guys from everywhere.
The best thing about Bond movies are the action sequences. Startlingly original, these make you sit on edge. My favourites are the ones with Jaws, who I believe is one of Bond’s more menacing foes. Today’s Bollywood, particularly the Dhoom series, owes a debt of gratitude to James Bond.
But even the much-improved action sequences in Hindi movies don’t have the techno-savvy that Bond movies manifest in ample measure. The parachute that turns into a hovercraft; the free fall from a snowy cliff and the skis that manifest at the click of a watch; the Aston-Martin that converts into a speedboat. These are an adrenaline lover’s dream toys. Every gizmo loving man and woman probably salivates after Bond’s watches, his pens and most of all, his car. The casino scenes are also one of the nicer things in Bond movies. They are oddly nostalgic: The black tie, the ball gowns, the dressing up to go to the casino, the cigar smoke, the velvet curtains, the red carpets and gilt tables, the urbane gentlemen behind the baccarat table.
Contrast that with Chris Tucker mouthing off in a casino in Rush Hour 4. I personally prefer Tucker as an actor—he appeals to my adolescent sense of humour. But the set designers were a whole lot better in the Bond films.
Tucker as James Bond? Now that would make for an interesting movie. Another suggestion: Hillary Clinton or more plausibly, Michelle Yeoh should play Bond as a sign of the times. After all, the balance of power is moving East.
(Feminist convictions notwithstanding, Shoba Narayan thinks it would be fun to be a Bond babe. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org)