James Bond in the 21st Century: Why We Still Need 007
by Glenn Yeffeth with Leah Wilson
The people have spoken and Daniel Craig is James Bond. The most recent entry in the four decades-long string of Bond flicks is hovering around the top of the box office charts, proving that James Bond is still relevant in the 21st Century. Daniel Craig’s Bond is a departure from the Bond we’ve come to know. Not only is Craig blond, but he’s a much more visceral Bond. Casino Royale is also something of a rebooting of the Bond franchise. Casino Royale was the first novel by Ian Fleming which was never really made into a proper film. With the new Casino Royale, the gadgets, quips and puns are left behind, leaving Daniel Craig to play James Bond as an action hero. Craig’s Bond chases the bad guy all over creation on foot. He gets into fights that leave him bloodied and scared. He seduces women, but prefers the married kind because they don’t make long term demands. The Bond of Casino Royale is very much in keeping with Fleming’s vision of the secret agent who is aloof, cynical, misanthropic and dedicated to his work, and little else.
When editor Glenn Yeffeth was putting together James Bond in the 21st Century: Why we still need 007, Daniel Craig’s Bond was still a mystery. Since Casino Royale had not hit the screens yet, the commentaries on the Bond mystique could only guess where the franchise might be headed. Instead, we are treated to meditations on the film incarnations of Bond, the troubled path the Bond books took to arrive on the screen and the growing disconnect between the literary Bond and the movie Bond.
Like the Bond movies themselves, I found this book to be highly uneven. Raymond Benson’s essay, “Can the Cinematic Bond Ever Be the Literary Bond?” gets the book off to a great start. Benson traces the long road from spy novel to silver screen. It was interesting to learn that the first production of Casino Royale was a 1954 CBS televison presentation featuring Barry Nelson as an American “Jimmy Bond with Peter Lorre playing Le Chiffe. If things had played out a little differently, James Bond might have been an NBC television series in the 50’s. When Dr. No finally went into production, producers decided that there needed to be more humor and Bond became a more sophisticated character than the misanthropic character of the Bond novels.
I found the essays that dissect why the Bond films work interesting. Lee Pfeiffer’s essay, “Bland… James Bland,” makes the case that Bond is really a bland cipher who exists largely to allow the great villain to run rampant. Bruce Bethke’s essay, “James Bond: Now More Than Ever,” explores why we need the fantasy of a heroic, charismatic spy when the reality of espionage is dark, gruesome and very frightening.
While there are some excellent essays in this book, there are also a fair share of essays that are more or less filler. The debates over who is the best Bond, best Bond villain or best Bond girl are the stuff of fan blog sites. Things really take a dive when the writers go for humor. The faux personnel reports are as inspired as email jokes. The worst piece in the book is Raylynn Hillhouse’s abysmal, “I knew Julius No, Julius No was a friend of mine. Osama, you’re no Dr. No.” I just didn’t find a essay advising Osama Bin Laden on how to be a proper supervillain very amusing.