James Bond is Loved Because He's Unreal, but Spectre is not the Deal

In this 21st century life where vintage and throwback sub-cultural references seem ubiquitous, James Bond has a delicate place where he still looks like a relic in the midst this dapper-looking, side-parting revival. If the zeitgeist of the previous decades was littered with anti-establishment spirit, then the current trend is more like borrowing all the cool stuff from the era where our parents still learned ABC and put a digital touch on it for the sake of relevance.

It’s probably not the best indicator to read where the wind of pop cultural reference blows, but spy films in the last 20 years have been made according to this barometer. We had Xander Cage when being cutting edge was cool. There’s Jason Bourne that many people believe to be the ideal personification of modern secret agent. Ethan Hunt might come from a slightly older universe, but the way he’s delivered, he’s clearly somebody belongs to this century. We even had Austin Powers who uncouthly flipped common perception on spies to our amusement.

While those spies tip-toeing their ways behind enemy lines in line with the current culturally acceptable tunes, James Bond is having none of that and still dwelling in his own rhythm that some think might have become obsolete. It’s pretty understandable considering how Bond was created as a Cold War-era hero, with Cold War-era suave and Cold War-era approach. Almost everything about him is out of date, from his raison d’etre to his preference of drinks. The way he treats women draws allegations as a misogynist. He looks like a totem from the previous, distant generation.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean being outdated is a bad thing. We love outdated things. We love vinyl records. We love old-fashioned camera with photographic films. We love beards. We love overpriced old stuff because they’re vintage. Heck, we even love consuming food the way it was consumed by our pre-historic ancestors. We love everything that doesnt belong to this era.

James Bond doesn’t belong to this era and that’s exactly why we love him. He’s a throwback. He’s old school. We know better now that real secret agents these days probably dont share his swashbuckling attitude. We know better that real spies are not super humans. They’re just better equipped with tools and skills. The reason why Bond hasn’t escaped our attention is because he looks anything but real.

It’s not to say that we didn’t like him when he looked slightly more real. Casino Royale, my all time favourite, portrayed a fragile and reckless Bond who weeped in the shower and looked more mortal than ever. Bond was humanised without giving up the impression that he’s special. For the first time Bond played along with the current campaign of emo-protagonists with hearts and the accolades received proved that it worked.

So when Spectre returns Bond to his traditional being (free, illogical shagging included), it’s actually more of a homecoming than drifting away from popular taste. It’s classic Bond with all his logic-defying actions that might unease the same modern cinemagoers that demanded an alien from Krypton to be more human and lauded mutants when they behaved like normal homo sapiens.

However, becoming ungrounded is not the reason why Spectre fails to give the same remarkable impression as Casino Royale and Skyfall. It has nothing to do with the way Bond was portrayed. He stays the same person that he has always been. It’s the other elements that didn’t live up to expectations. 

I dont want to go into details here, but my biggest regret is seeing how undercooked Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott’s characters were. I was imagining how awfully great it would be to have Hans Landa and Moriarty playing Bond’s counterpart together. It turned out to be a pipe dream because there’s not even a single scene with both actors present.

So probably it’s for the good of every party involved that Daniel Craig might have acted in his last Bond film. I doubt that in years to come we’ll remember him as somebody whose skull got drilled by Bloveld in Spectre. He’ll be forever remembered as somebody whose testicles got smashed by Le Chiffre in Casino Royale.

As for the future, I hope Idris gets it.


Disclaimer: I was invited to the Indonesian premiere and #OpenBondsWorld by Heineken, but this is not a sponsored post. This is a review on the film rather than the event itself.