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We See Ourselves in 007, But Not For the Reasons You Might Think

Have you watched all the James Bond movies? This author explains his character flaws.
(Photo credit: MGM)

I grew up watching James Bond with my dad. I’ve watched every movie, from the original Dr. No (1968) with the legendary Sean Connery to the most recent No Time to Die (2021) with the illustrious Daniel Craig. The series is dominated by themes and images typically attractive to men, but I loved the Aston Martins, the Walther PPKs, and the martinis served shaken — not stirred. The on-screen machismo never deterred me from enjoying every story of this timeless MI6 agent, his worldwide travels, and the satisfying presumption that he’ll always somehow come back to win.

With a release date that has been delayed for two years, the long-awaited No Time to Die is finally here. It’s been six years since the last 007 film, Spectre, and this latest episode is well worth the wait.

This latest installment of James Bond features the agent in a chase after an enemy who wields a biological weapon that threatens the entire human race. I’ll save the spoilers for a full movie review, but you can take this recommendation from someone who has seen every Bond film since the original Dr. No: it’s a brilliantly produced episode that is already breaking box office records, and it should not be missed.

No Time to Die marks Daniel Craig’s last performance as James Bond in the series, a character whose heroism is complicated. Everyone knows what makes Bond Bond — he drives the nicest cars, he has the most beautiful women on his arm, and he completes the riskiest missions against the most dangerous criminals in the world. But those who have followed the series closely know that the agent’s origin story goes deeper than this image.

Bond’s parents died at a young age. His entire childhood and orphandom is revisited in Skyfall (2012), when he and the Head of MI6, whose name is M, return to his family’s estate to defeat the movie’s villain, Silva. “Orphans always make the best recruits,” M reminds Bond.

Skyfall further focuses on Bond’s other flaws and internal issues. He’s an aging, burnt-out former naval commander who was left for dead by M herself. In a scene at the beginning of that movie, he’s shown unshaven and drunk, bumming around a Turkish island, sleeping with nameless women, and turning to alcohol and pills. After decades of service to queen and country, he’s hopeless and exhausted. He’s given up.

He returns to England, however, after seeing on TV that MI6 was attacked in a gas explosion in London. He mends his broken relationship with M but realizes he’s not the agent he once was. He trains harder than ever before to combat Silva and, despite his lack of self-confidence, rises to the occasion of defeating the terrorist.

In the Daniel Craig iteration of this franchise, Bond isn’t the agent that his brand makes him out to be. He might wear an OMEGA Seamaster watch, but he fights a substance addiction. He might travel the world and stay in the richest hotels, but he feels alone. In an interview with GQ last week, Daniel Craig even comments on his own character’s problems: “I try not to ever judge him. He’s flawed.”

I repeat: James Bond is an aging, burnt-out former naval commander who was left for dead by M herself. Earlier versions of this character depict him as always having it all figured out, always in control, always at the top of his game. Craig’s Bond is vulnerable — and that interior turmoil is what has made Bond movies so compelling over the past 15 years. How he tangles with himself is just as intriguing as how he tangles with the enemy.

Bond emerged from the shadows when his country needed him. He rose from the dead to save those whom he loved. He walks the path of a hero, which is a journey we all must make when we confront ourselves and rise to something better. He’s a hero of second chances and rebirth — just look at this dialogue with his villain in Skyfall:

Silva: If you wanted, you could pick your own secret missions, as I do. Name it — name it. Destabilize a multinational by manipulating stocks: easy. Interrupt transmissions from a spy satellite over Kabul: done. Rig an election in Uganda: all to the highest bidder.

Bond: Or a gas explosion in London.

Silva: Mm-hm. Just point and click.

Bond: Well, everybody needs a hobby.

Silva: So what’s yours?

Bond: Resurrection.

James Bond has his flaws, but he also has the capacity to transcend them, like all of us. He’s not loved by audiences around the world because of his sexy, expensive lifestyle, but rather because we see ourselves in him.

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