In 1962, cinema and television was awash with white male fantasy stories, and it was accepted, because it was 1962. Sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, classism – all of these social issues remained largely unchallenged at that time, in the grand scheme of things. In those terms, the social progress made over the course of the fifty years that followed is truly remarkable. Now, in 2016 – with greater awareness, and the power of social media to facilitate discussion and provide a voice to those that previously did not have one – we are tackling social issues on a daily basis. This is why, with every new James Bond movie, the franchise becomes increasingly obsolete. We’ve evolved, and left him behind.
Sure, the special effects and action sequences in 2015’s Spectre are a vast improvement on those in 1962’s Dr. No, and Bond’s gadgets have certainly become more impressive over the last fifty years. But are we really supposed to believe that this franchise has changed with the times, when the only visible social progress is the casting of a woman of colour (Naomie Harris) as supporting character Miss Moneypenny, and the inclusion of a Bond Girl who isn’t in her twenties (Monica Bellucci in Spectre)? On the most basic level, nothing else has changed with this film series, and that’s a problem.
This is why the James Bond franchise is now at a critical juncture, as it approaches its 25th instalment. It really is a question of “live, or let die?” Current 007, Daniel Craig, is departing after four films, and the director of the most recent two – Sam Mendes – is also exiting, stage left. There are, of course, those dedicated fans who believe very strongly that the Bond status quo should remain untouched. They point to the position of the franchise in the league table of highest-grossing film series, and declare it still popular. They are not wrong – it is still popular, relatively speaking – but, forgetting, for a moment, all the social toxicity infused in the current Bond model, imagine how much more popular it would be if it evolved?
As time marches on, society and technology marches along with it. Global progress will not be halted and, while there will always be a vocal minority that wishes things could get back to the way they were, that demographic will continue to shrink as years pass. That’s just life. The fact is, if Bond fans want their favourite franchise to continue for another 24 films, the entire thing needs an overhaul – and there’s no time like the present.
Nobody is suggesting that we destroy every copy of the James Bond films that have gone before. Those movies are still there, and can be watched at your convenience. But this film series could be so much more than a white male fantasy. It spans an era of human history that has seen remarkable levels of social change and, rather than clinging to a redundant idea, it could instead be a fascinating window on the advancement of our communities, packaged within action-packed stories of espionage. As it is, the only advancement it demonstrates is in the technology available for the lead character’s toys, or for those available to the filmmakers.
Yes, the James Bond franchise continues to turn a profit, but it could make a great deal more money if it acknowledged something other than male wish fulfilment. It has always remained steeped in the social context of the 1960s, and now is the time to modernize the whole thing – not just the gadgets and action. There are several changes that could be made, while retaining the overall appeal, so let’s take a look at how the series can evolve and still remain popular.