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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

His Name's Still Bond




James Bond turned 79 last week. Although Ian Fleming didn't publish his first "007'' novel until 1953 ("Casino Royale''), "James


Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007'' dates the superspy's birth as Nov. 11, 1920. He's a very well-preserved agent, indeed.


That he currently looks like Pierce Brosnan - who can now be seen running, jumping, shooting and seducing in "The World Is Not Enough'' - is just happenstance. Being Bond is a position that transcends personality: Human vessels, imbued with the requisite authority, occupy the office, perform their duties and, with little explanation and no primaries, move on.


And just as each generation is defined by its president, each is defined by its Bond: Some are the children of Richard Nixon and Sean Connery; some are the children of Gerald Ford and Roger Moore. (And if Brosnan, a perfectly good Bond, bails out after the next and last in his four-movie Bond deal, don't be surprised if Hugh Grant starts stammering his way through global crises and badly appointed boudoirs before the paint is dry on Brosnan's old dressing room.)


The Bond bio? Orphaned young. Admitted/expelled from Eton. Lied his way into the Ministry of Defense (by saying he was 19, not 17). Wound up licensed to kill. Has been played by Timothy Dalton and former model George Lazen by (with "In Her Majesty's Secret Service'').


He's also been impersonated by the likes of Woody Allen ("Casino Royale''). The women in the films - usually as memorable as the Bonds themselves - have included Honor Blackman, Ursula Andress, Carole Bouquet and Dr. Quinn herself, Jane Seymour.


But does this martini-drinking, gun-wielding swordsman still possess the qualities that made him a font of vicarious male indulgence ever since he first used his Aston Martin's ejection seat in 1962's "Dr. No''? No? Say it ain't so. Bond, after all, was the guy who kept his head - and a prehistoric perspective on gender - while all those around him were losing theirs.


Even with the apparently enlightened Michael Apted at the helm of the latest Bond thriller, you can't call him progressive - and by "him'' we mean the franchise founded by the late producer Albert "Cubby'' Broccoli and continued by his heirs. There are the strictly sophomoric double entendres ("You want to check my figures?'' Bond is asked by a shapely assistant, just prior to the film's mercifully sole cigar joke).


There are the naughtily named heroines - the most socially acceptable is probably the new film's Dr. Holly Warmflash (Serena Scott-Thomas). And the idea of casting the bountiful but benumbingly bad actress Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist is someone's idea of a sick joke. Richards even makes Sophie Marceau - the most convincing argument for subtitles on two continents - sound like she's making sense.


But at the same time, "The World Is Not Enough'' also finds Brosnan actually having to act, because Bond is more of a complex character than he's been, with conflicted attitudes about death, women and serial mating. The movie persists in the series' wastrel way with beautiful women - Italian bombshell Maria Grazia Cucinotta ("Il Postino'') self-immolates before the opening credits - but he feels bad about it. Really.


This errant humanity, however, is immaterial. Where the Bond franchise is groundbreaking, where it shows a visionary streak belied by its seeming "Playboy After Dark'' view of life, is in both its savvy world view and absolutely licentious use of product placement and advertising tie-ins.


Would anyone buy a watch made by (fill in the blank) just because a fictional character named James Bond wears one in a film? Would they go for an outrageously expensive sports car, such and such a credit card or whatchamacallit sneakers just because they're waved onscreen during "The World Is Not Enough''? Probably not. (Not in the United States, anyway.) But the shameless way the goods are plugged shows such a complete lack of finesse - as well as acknowledging that we live in an age of subliminal sabotage, crass commercialism and exploitative entertainment - that we become complicit in the joke. By being so unabashedly craven, the Bond movies come across as relatively honest.


As far as knowing the producers knowing their markets - well, the title of the new movie couldn't say it better. Villainy is assigned to emotionally volatile but thoroughly diplomatic quarters. For instance, thuggish villains are unspecific "Eastern Europeans'' - they could be anybody. Only "rogue'' states and "rogue'' terrorists are putting the Bond world at risk.


Ergo, the cast represents every quarter of the globe except Asia (which was represented in the last Bond film, "Tomorrow Never Dies,'' by Hong Kong's Michelle Yeoh). Marceau, dressed as if she's about to burst into the Dance of the Seven Veils, is French. Robbie Coltrane is English. Brosnan is Irish. Robert Carlyle is Scottish. Ulrich Thomsen ("The Celebration'') is Danish. Richards is American. Cucinotta is Italian. Salma Hayek, who's not in the movie but certainly could be, is Mexican.


Oh yes, and there's Dame Judi Dench, who returns as Bond's boss M. Considering that she won an Oscar last year for her mere eight minutes in "Shakespeare in Love,'' could she possibly do it again?


Not a chance. Guilty pleasures are to be kept in the dark. And James Bond, if nothing else, is the world's guilty pleasure.


John Anderson is a film critic for Newsday, where this comment initially appeared.