“He explained that the name was the important thing for inspiring the necessary fear.” – Wesley, the Princess Bride
There is always something trecherous in discussing a character with a long continuity. Like dipping into a pool of sharks with laser beams attached to their head, it can prove be a fascinating but dangerous experience. So when I say that I have a theory that would fix the continuously growing amount of confusion (at least on my part) surrounding the continouity and mythos of one specific British secret agent, I do so with no doubt that this may cost me a good deal of time sorting through the endless amounts of angry comments demanding that I confess that I don’t know anything about James Bond.
So in an effort to spare my eyes the laborous task of sorting through nearly 60 years of muddled history and contradictory statements regarding background and various fan wankery about how it all fits together, as well as the aforementioned onslaught of angry emails and comments, let’s just begin this post by clarifying that my knowledge of James Bond is limited to the films, the information I’ve been able to gleam from those films, and I’ll be discussing my issues with those films.
In other words, I don’t give two stirred martinis about the continuity, history or information presented in the novels. I have never read them. I’m sure they’re lovely, but this post pertains wholly to the context of the films. Thank you, and good day.
Back to the topic at hand, I have had a long running issue with the Bond series. From the changing actors to the shifting of the character’s age, there are a lot of inconsistencies with James Bond. In 2006, they attempted to “reboot” the series in a modern-day setting with Casino Royale. We have modern technology, a female M (played by the same actress, causing much head scratching on my part), and a suave new 21st century setting. Essentially tossing out Bonds #1-20 out the window, to the point where I’m not sure why they are still numbering in this fashion (Maybe because it’s one of the only movie series that has more installments than the Land Before Time).
Not taking into account many of my own personal complaints with Casino Royale. I felt the need to reboot the entire franchise unnecessary because there was a simple way to give Bond a fresh start, maintain continuity, and even patch a couple of potential plot holes along the way. The solution in my eyes is a very simple one: Make ‘James Bond’ a pseudonym. A fake name that comes with holding the dubious title of being Agent 007. When a former 007 retires (or dies), MI6 scouts a new one and they take their predecessor’s position and name. They become the new James Bond.
Let’s go back and re-examine the beginning of Casino Royale. In a modern-day setting, we see a new agent become the new 007 and the new James Bond from M, played by the same actress as the previous four films. Old M, new Bond. Well, that’s slightly less confusing. There’s no Q, because Q sadly passed away back in The World is Not Enough and no witty banter with any form of Moneypenny because this new Bond is brand new and thus is not familiar with (possibly never has met) Moneypenny. You get the new start, the emotionally fragile new Bond, and the new gadgets and with one small alteration you have not informed the fans of the previous 20 Bond films that their old favorites are now irrelevant.
This does more than fix some of my issues with Casino Royale though. What about agent 006 – Alec Trevelyan? One of Bond’s dearest friends from MI6 that has somehow never been mentioned until the events of GoldenEye. Well maybe because only the Pierce Brosnan Bond knew Alec and not the entire line of Bonds. How about how Q continued to age while Bond roughly remained the same age from incarnation to incarnation? And of course, James Bond isn’t the only alias the agent goes under. After all, if the guy looking to kill you knows that you usually go under the name ‘Nigel Tinkerfleet’ you will probably be telling the hotel clerk that your name is ‘Horton Gagglesbrook’.
Though you must admit, the idea does hold some degree of weight. Nor would it have been difficult to implement (heck, they still can in Bond 23 due out in 2012 supposedly), an additional scene or a few extra lines of dialogue to establish that the current James Bond is in a line of Bonds. Something like “You may wish to familiarize yourself with the accomplishments of your predecessors” and flop! M tosses down a folder marked ’007: James Bond’ with some photos in reference to previous Bond films.
Is this idea totally air tight? No, of course not, because I highly doubt it was ever intentional. Ian Flemming’s novels clearly all portray the same man. The idea was to do the same with the films. There are likely several points where one Bond refers to something a different Bond did as personal experience, and then of course there’s the issue of Tracy, Bond’s deceased wife (To be fair, she is only in one film, and while the subtext can be interpreted that Bond might be thinking of or referring to Tracy, it’s never explicit.) However, we are knocking of the 50th anniversary of Sean Connery’s debut performance in Dr. No and with all this talk of creating a grittier, darker Bond, and wanting to ‘reboot’ the entire franchise with these newest films, is changing this detail really such an out-there idea? Because honestly, I would take a retcon over a reboot any day.