SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED. In 1995's Goldeneye, a Russian mobster self-consciously teases 007 about his signature line, and Pierce Brosnan has no choice but to smile with him. As the fifth incarnation of Bond, he knows he's got to play along with the rules of a franchise now 39 years old, for better or worse. Yet during this weeklong series of 10 Bond pics—some classic, some not—the suave British secret agent created by Ian Fleming undergoes a sort of evolution. He has outlived some purposes and assumed others. Once he fought evil; today he upholds an embattled yet evolving ideal of masculinity.
THE FIVE FACES OF BOND
runs March 31-April 6 at Egyptian
As indelibly embodied by Sean Connery (still the best Bond), this virile cold warrior is a pure product of the '50s, chauvinist and overbearing, constantly boozing, smoking, and on the prowl for laughably available sex kittens. Connery's saturnine presence makes latter-day Bonds seem wimpy by comparison; but how many modern women would actually want to live with the fellow? And how many guys would want the psychological burdens of a man "with a license to kill," seemingly without conscience? Even after shagging so many babes, how does he sleep at night?
Connery provides few clues in this regard, as his aloof, unflappable Bond remains emotionally opaque. Visiting Miami in 1964's Goldfinger, he boasts, "I know the best place in town," like it matters; later he lectures us on the correct temperature at which to serve 1953 Dom Perignon. His connoisseurship is a defense that keeps him forever distant from others. By contrast, George Lazenby's Bond actually falls in love with Diana Rigg in 1969's underrated On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Now it's best remembered for Telly Savalas' bald archcriminal—hello Dr. Evil!--and snowy Swiss chases, but for at least one film, 007 actually cared.
THE ROGER MOORE ERA (1973-85) put an end to all that. A comic at heart, he unintentionally made Bond a bloated self-caricature long before Mike Myers dreamed up Austin Powers. He's the worst 007 during the franchise's most vapid period, when the only memorable elements are the villains, pre-opening credit stunts, bad pop songs, and Richard Kiel as Jaws—who loomed above Moore's facile charisma. Dour Timothy Dalton finally brought a welcome antidote to this trend with 1987's The Living Daylights; but alas, like Lazenby, the chemistry wasn't quite right.
Soon, the Soviet Union began to topple, and with it Bond's purposefulness. Fighting drug traffickers just seemed so television; we could see that at home. Suddenly we were nostalgic for Connery's retro cool; the old sex roles and superpower conflicts seemed oddly reassuring in our decentered postmodern world. Meanwhile, Bond was streamlined, overhauled, ridden of some vices, made less promiscuous and more PC. The corporate world calls it restructuring, and as one of the most financially successful characters in film history, 007 is certainly an industry.
The new model since '95 is Brosnan, and he's everything his engineers intended: not so cool as to be a prick like Connery, not so eager to please that he becomes a clown like Moore. The '90s Bond is nimble and responsive, like the machines that car manufacturers pay for him to drive. Bond meets the specs. Men and women alike can respond to his idealized qualities.
However, the ossified Bond formulas are his real problem. We expect gadgets, chases, babes, supervillains, improbable plots, tag lines, and stunts, and they're duly delivered—but often to forgettable effect. Grown men can recite dialogue from the old flicks because they were much simpler. Today the spectacle tends to overwhelm the agent. It's harder for guys to worshipfully imagine themselves as 007 on screen amid the explosions and crashes. Even as the series endures, its fans lament the loss of their inner Bond.