The Cultural And Historical Context Of The Eon James Bond Series Essays Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Cinema, Film, Series, Actions, War, Russia, America, Culture

Pages: 6

Words: 1650

Published: 2020/12/21

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The James Bond film series, ever since its debut with Dr. No in 1962, has maintained a strong status as one of the longest-running action-adventure film franchises in film history. With 23 official films in the series running from 1962 to 2012, the 52-year-old series has combined vicarious jet-setting thrills with a handsome lead star, stunning action, innovative production design, and gorgeous women. However, taking a look at a cross-section of the James Bond films from their beginning to their most current iterations, it is clear that their success also stems from a reflection of the historical and cultural attitudes of the time in which it was created. Each film in the series reacts in new ways to the way American (and global) culture was turning in that particular moment, shining a light on the concerns of the world that James Bond must combat (or embrace). Looking at the films From Russia with Love (1964), Moonraker (1979), Licence to Kill (1989), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Casino Royale (2006), these particular films will be revealed to their relevance in their particular sociopolitical milieus, and how those have developed and changed over the years.
The second in the James Bond film series, From Russia With Love had not yet adopted the over-the-top silliness the Bond series would be known for in its seminal, iconic follow-up Goldfinger. Nonetheless, it helped to solidify the appeal of the swinging 60s jet-set lifestyle of which the Bond series became a proxy for its audience, as well as played on the Cold War spy games that captured the imagination of the West during the 1960s. During the 1960s, the Cold War was at its height – the Cuban Missile Crisis itself had happened just a year prior to this film’s release – and the James Bond series in particular had its origins in providing the Western movie-going public with a way to fight the Russians using the cold, cool adventuring of the suave James Bond (Chapman 93).


With the arrival of Roger Moore and the 70s, the camp era of James Bond was in full swing, and the impact of Star Wars in particular decided the fate of this silly space-age James Bond entry. The previous entry, The Spy Who Loved Me, was supposed to have been followed up with For Your Eyes Only, but this entry was greenlit quickly in 1977 in light of the blockbuster success of Star Wars – the American public was fascinated with sci-fi and space opera, and so this Bond entry tried to cash in on that with a tale of disappearing spaceships, an orbiting space base of supermen, and a climactic space battle between the minions of Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) and the Space Forces, all of them in spacesuits and carrying laser guns. The mass-market appeal of the film was also furthered by the return of fan-favorite henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) from Spy Who Loved Me, who gets a shoehorned subplot in several scenes simply for the sake of inclusion. In this particular instance, EON Production’s last-minute desire to cater to the audience’s need for space opera and fan-service led to a decidedly mediocre entry in the Bond series.

Licence to Kill

Once Roger Moore left the role and the darker, grittier Timothy Dalton took over, it was time for the James Bond film series to get bloodier and moodier to accompany its glowering star (and the film tastes of late-80s film audiences). The 1980s saw both the cultural supremacy of American action films like Die Hard, Commando, Lethal Weapon and Rambo and the heavy impact of the War on Drugs and police corruption (particularly the Iran-Contra conflict) (Chapman 246). Instead of the fully-sponsored state action of international espionage, James Bond (Dalton, much more dour than the cheeky Moore) goes rogue from MI6 on a mission of personal revenge against Sanchez (Robert Davi), a Mexican drug lord, to avenge the maiming of his friend Felix Leiter (David Hedison). Leiter is a recurring character in the Bond series, lending the stakes a ‘this time it’s personal’ bend in keeping with the American action films it is aping. In addition to that, the film itself is much bloodier and gorier than its predecessors, fearing people getting visibly eaten by sharks, ground up in giant grinding machines, run through with harpoons and riddled with machine gun fire. The Mexican drug backdrop also allowed the film to touch on the illegal cocaine trade and cartels, both of which were prevalent concerns in America at the time. All of these elements and more made Licence to Kill an attempt to catch up with the times, offering raw, emotional, personal stakes for Bond rather than him simply waltzing through a glamorous situation on orders from M, in keeping with the blood-soaked American action films that were popular at the time.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Though Pierce Brosnan’s first entry in the Bond series, Goldeneye (1995), took Bond to task for being “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” (as Judi Dench’s M calls him in that film), its follow-up Tomorrow Never Dies brought the series back to its fun-loving basics. The film felt like a reaction to the Austin Powers series of films, which lovingly poked fun at 1960s spy films like Goldfinger and the like, forcing EON to seemingly abandon its darker exploration of Bond’s anachronisms and instead fully embracing them. Instead of the brooding, existential Bond of the previous film, Brosnan plays the role with an unironic wink and a smile, updating the spy’s Cold War roots to a more modern setting.
This entry also sees the introduction of several other 90s-era cultural signposts into the mix – the influx of 1990s Asian action films and the onset of cable news corporations. The film’s villain, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is essentially a dark mirror of Rupert Murdoch mixed with Willam Randolph Hearst; his evil scheme is not to rule the world, but to kickstart a world war simply to get exclusive news coverage of it (Chapman 262). Furthermore, the Bond girl of this picture is Wai Lin, played by Asian action star Michelle Yeoh; granting her an agency and sense of competence rarely granted to Bond’s sidekicks (who are mostly ditzy romantic conquests), the film shows off Yeoh’s martial-arts prowess, a nod to films like Supercop and her other Hong Kong action films that were becoming popular in the West at that time (Chapman 246). These elements and more demonstrate Tomorrow Never Dies’ dedication, as with the other Bond films, to capture the cultural concerns of its era – where the 60s had the Cold War and jet-setting, the 90s had cable news and Hong Kong action films.

Casino Royale

After an extended absence given the critical failure of 2002’s Die Another Day and the impact of the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, EON Productions returned to the series with a softly-rebooted James Bond, played with gritty determination by blonde actor Daniel Craig. Throwing out the campiness and silliness of the Moore and Brosnan Bonds, Craig’s Bond is more in the school of Dalton, but with even more of a thuggish edge. The series is rebooted with this entry, Bond only just having received his 00 spy status at the film’s start; this cements Craig’s Bond as not yet fully-formed, a thuggish brute who has to earn the status and sophistication his predecessors enjoyed. In a soft reversal of the misogynistic male gaze of previous Bonds, glamour shots also focus on Craig’s physique, including a ‘stepping out of the water’ shot that distinctly echoes Honey Ryder’s first sensual appearance in Dr. No.
Foremost among the changes to this reboot is the style of its action; as opposed to the stylized, dashing gunplay and car chases, much of Casino Royale’s action is up close and personal, bloody, and claustrophobically filmed in handheld. This is patently a reaction to the success of the Jason Bourne film series, which innovated this handheld style of action filmmaking, and by which Craig’s tenure is inspired. This style of fighting, along with the darker themes and uncompromising brutality and humorlessness of Craig’s Bond, results in a superspy much more fitting for a cynical post-9/11 era.
Looking at these selected entries in the Bond film series, the trajectory of both historical and cultural tastes and concerns for the Western film-loving audience were made plain. From Russia With Love appealed to the jet set’s desire to go out and see new sights by having the suave, three-piece-suited Sean Connery bed Russian ladies, travel to Turkey and take on the Soviets, while toying with Cold War fears of double agents and espionage. Moonraker attempted to quickly cash in on the popularity of sci-fi pictures such as Star Wars, while continuing Roger Moore’s campy, sly James Bond that took itself less seriously than his other incarnations. Licence to Kill took almost exactly the opposite tack, following along the hard-R grittiness of the American action –movie renaissance (and the concerns of the War on Drugs) by putting the grim Dalton in an unsanctioned tale of personal revenge. Tomorrow Never Dies saw Bond leap into the 21st century, with advanced technology, a media mogul villain, and a winking tone that attempted to match the bright fun of the parodic Austin Powers series. Casino Royale rebooted James Bond for the cynical post-9/11 age, making James Bond a petty, hard-nosed thug with personal demons and up-close brutal fighting reminiscent of the popular Bourne movies. As the Bond films move toward their 24th incarnation, the series continues to climb in popularity, in no small part due to its ability to capture the pervading concerns of that moment in history and culture and place it cathartically on the screen.

Works Cited

Chapman, James. (2000). Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films.
Columbia University Press.
Cork, John; Stutz, Collin (2007). James Bond Encyclopedia. London: Dorling Kindersley. 
Jütting, Kerstin (2007). "Grow Up, 007!" - James Bond Over the Decades: Formula Vs.
Innovation. GRIN Verlag.
Lindner, Christoph (2009). The James Bond Phenomenon: a Critical Reader. Manchester
Spicer, Andrew (3 October 2003). Typical Men: The Representation of Masculinity in Popular
British Cinema. London: I.B. Tauris.
Figure 1. From Russia With Love, with its secretive Russian villain, gritty train fistfights, and stylish romance along the Thames.
Figure 2. Moonraker, with its space-race plot, the return of silly fan-favorite henchmen like Jaws, and a laser-soaked Star Wars-y climax.
Figure 3. Licence to Kill, with its dark Colombian drug lord villain and darker, grittier Bond.
Figure 4. Tomorrow Never Dies' quirky car chases, kick-ass Asian film-star sidekick, and "evil media mogel" villain.
Figure 5. Casino Royale's brutal fistfights, rebooted storyline and emphasis on the 'beefcake' Bond.

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