Why Do We Still Love Bond Films?

Bond is back. And yours truly is excited.

I know, I know.  YES, I have some misgivings about liking Bond. He’s a misogynist. He dispenses violence a little too casually. Plus that penchant for terrible punsStill, when the 24th installment to the franchise, Spectre, is released this weekend, I’ll be there.

Will it be worth watching? Critics are divided so far. MaryAnn Johnason of Flick Filosopher writes: “After a truly spectacular and fresh opening sequence, everyone might as well be enacting a Bond puppet show, which is sometimes unpleasantly retro-icky.” Rob Carnevale of Inside London disagrees: “Spectacular, stylish, dark but still amusing, Spectre is a thrilling entry that combines the best of Bond movies old and new.”

‘Old and new’…a ‘puppet show’: that’s the thing about the Bond franchise — there’s a formula. I know exactly what to expect: fast cars, beautiful women, and martinis. Shaken, not stirred.

In the art world, bastion of innovation and creativity that it is, “formulaic” is a critique. True art, it is said, can be returned to again and again. Layers of subtlety evoke multiple levels of meaning . When your book club takes on The Brothers Karamazov, bottles of conversation won’t exhaust it.

Bond is not that. At all. It’s no surprise that, until Adele came along, Bond never won an Oscar for anything outside of sound and special effects.

Which might mean that The Academy is holding Bond to an ideal it doesn’t hold for itself, that they don’t appreciate Bond for what it is. And yet in 2013, the Oscars offered a tribute in commemoration of Bond’s 50th year. Performances from Shirley Bassey (singer of the Goldfinger theme) and Adele (Skyfall‘s theme) bookended the tribute.

Watch how the Academy reacts to Bassey’s rendition of “Goldfinger”:

People love it! Reese Witherspoon is glowing! Nothing like a rousing opening Bond number to get people excited.

What is it that gets us on our feet for Bond? Why are we so excited to see Spectre this weekend when we know what we’re about to see? Here are three explanations:

  1. Sometimes we just need a break (The “Kit Kat” explanation).

Escapist entertainment has a powerful pull. I lose myself in the latest Netflix series, my fantasy football team, and vacation beach reads. Many days, our life alternates between humdrum routine and responsibilities that quickly turn to stressors. For two hours, Bond removes us from that world and transports us to the world of spies, villains, and car chases.

Bond is pure fun — none of the challenges he faces resembles our everyday struggles and anxieties.When we watch a Bond film, we are completely immersed in a different world. Sometimes, we just need a break, and Bond ably provides it.

Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond novels, was once asked how he came up with the character of Bond. He admitted, “I was just on the edge of getting married, and I was frenzied at the prospect of taking this big step in my life. I wanted to take my mind off the agony.”

Exactly.  For others, maybe it is that…

     2.) We want to be like Bond. (The “Be Like Mike” explanation)

Bond is cool. He drives Aston Martins. He sports Tom Ford tuxedos. He gets chased down a ski slope by machine-gun wielding Soviet spies, outmanuevers them, then deploys a parachute when reaching a precarious cliff.

He is not like Superman, a hero impossibly different from us. Our separation from Bond is more superficial. A little boost to the wardrobe here, an injection of confidence there, and we might start to imagine ourselves as Bond. So maybe I’m nothing like him right now – but with a haircut, a tuxedo and a martini, who knows?

There’s a serious problem with the “Want to be like Bond” explanation, however. When you peel back the flashy exterior, Bond is not a good guy. He treats women poorly. He actively enjoys killing. Until Casino Royale, it was unclear that Bond was capable of experiencing anything resembling human emotion.

Maybe that’s part of Bond’s appeal. His callousness actually appeals to those of us who wish we could just shake off our daily conflict, challenges, and anxieties. To “be like Bond” means to avoid showing emotions.. Do I really want that? Absolutely not.

But, for two hours, I like to pretend that “being like Bond” would be cool.  And if I’m honest, I have to admit that… 

     3.) Bond is comfort food (the Mac-n-Cheese explanation).

Love them or hate them, Bond films follow a formula. It is comforting to know that I will get certain things when I see them. I’ll get Q and his crazy gadgets. I’ll get stern reprimands from M. I’ll get at least one awesome chase scene. I’ll get an appealing and mysterious villain as a worthy adversary for Bond. And, most importantly, I’ll get a Bond victory.

Liking Bond movies doesn’t mean that we Bond fans are resistant to creativity, innovation, and depth in art. It just means that we appreciate the familiar. Bond is the mac and cheese of film.

This weekend, Spectre will treat us to the usual formula: a crafty villain (played by Christophe Waltz), a moving opening number (sung by Sam Smith), and Daniel Craig’s last performance as Bond. We’ll escape our world for a while, and we might catch ourselves imagining what it would be like to be 007. Like a shaken martini, we know what to expect from Bond — and we’re grateful for it.

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Title image available here on Getty Images.

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