I am not a fan, but I have seen all but the last two of the James Bond films. I shall probably get around to seeing them soon, since even here in the Philippines they are hard to avoid.* For a critic, they are very low on the scale of films that warrant attention. but they are always there, like an old neighbor who is so trapped in acquisitiveness that he can never resist buying all the latest, "cutting edge," noisy and useless gadgets that wake you up too early on Sunday mornings but always draw the attention of the pretty girls on the block.
There are six Bonds. The five former Bonds are still around, but only one of them has outlasted and outshone the role: the man who created the role on film; the man who is still the original Bond; the one who first uttered the words "My name is Bond. James Bond" before they became the running gag they have long since become; the man to whom the other five Bonds are mere imitations. I mean Sean Connery,of course. Some have argued that Bond must always be reinvented for new eras and new generations, that there was a Bond for the 1960s, for the '70s and '80s, for the '90s, and now one for the new millennium. But you cannot reinvent something that is patented. And James Bond was patented in his first five films: all the characters, the formulae, the gadgets, the cars, the villains, and the girls. Everything since is simply unoriginal and exist only for the sake of the franchise.
The Bond patent was so successful that when parodies began to appear in the '60s, it was difficult to tell precisely what was being parodied and who was parodying whom.** Those first five Bond films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice) contain all the ideas that the series was capable of expressing. After them, new faces and ever-flashier and redundant representations of violence exposed an obvious battle fatigue that has made whatever effectiveness they may have been reaching for moot. Since the mid-1970s, the films didn't even have to be entertaining. They are like post-John Belushi SNL. Whenever I watch SNL today, and groan, I console myself with the knowledge that it doesn't have to be funny any more. But It will still be there ten years from now. SNL and the Bond films are just further proof that our culture is sold on the childish notion that all good things must . . . go on forever.
(Some Bond trivia: the perfect Englishman, whom Ian Fleming modeled on himself, has been played by only two actual Englishmen, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig. The others were Scots [Connery], Australian [George Lazenby], Welsh [Timothy Dalton], and Irish [Pierce Brosnan]. Hooray for the United Kingdom?)
* I passed a teacher's house last week here in my barangay, fighting off all the stares and the mutterings of "'Cano" and "hey Joe", when a voice from the past drifted by me. It was the unmistakable voice of Sean Connery. As I was walking past an open door (all doors are open during the day), I glimpsed a TV screen on which Thunderball was playing, with Adolfo Celi walking onto a yacht and Sean Connery right behind him.
** The best of them were the two Flint films, with James Coburn.