By Neil Merrett.
“East, West, just points of the compass each as stupid as the other. I’m a member of Spectre,” explains Dr Julias No, the suave, cultivated, metal handed villain with slightly rubbery eyebrows in the first ever James bond movie back in 1962.
Released to UK cinemas the same month as the Cuban missile crisis, the plot of Dr No sees Bond not saving us communists and nuclear Armageddon, but instead protecting both east and west alike from a malcontent seeking to expose their in built prejudices for personal gain and possibly a bigger fish tank.
It was a formula for villainy, whether in the form of eccentric Asians, aryan race horse owners, faceless foes with Eastern European accents or a Rupert Murdoch that has largely lasted for over 50 years of Bond movies and our own very real history.
Bond would not end the Cold War. Yet during the proceeding decades, he would scrape through it, drinking and shagging his way around the world to give global audiences a shiny, good versus evil narrative to offset the moral ambiguities of everyday politics and the real spectre of mutually assured destruction.
Bond movies have largely thrived on staying away from taking on reality face on, instead bringing down Ernst Stavros Blofeld and Christopher Lee with three nipples and a golden gun.
While Britain laboured over how to overcome existential threats like the IRA, Bond dealt with rogue agents and femme fatales sometimes with lethal thighs that sought to exploit the fragile nature of global politics.
Needless to say, global stability has always been a bad bit of business for the Bond series.
Yet in a world after September 11, a time so uncertain that even Matt Damon could become a legitimate cold blooded hardman, Daniel Craig created a Bond struggling to come to terms with his role working for Western powers that were equally partial to shadowy conspiracies and ruthless villainy.
Craig’s Bond is almost always at odds with the US and his own government on the nature of what goodies and baddies look like, showing a secret agent and intelligence service rapidly out of touch with an online world with seemingly infinitesimal complications.
“Look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No. Our world is not more transparent now. It is opaque. It’s in the shadows, that’s where me must do battle.”
Skyfall’s point was clear, the world is a mess, people are largely shits and exploding pens are probably not standard practice within UK intelligence.
Yet through sheer physical force, blue eyes and an unsustainable number of martinis, Bond powers on through each movie with a second world war defined sense of morality that has helped makes existence seem marginally less chaotic.
So at a time of fear and uncertainty around a surveillance state capable of monitoring our most private thoughts, decision and pizza orders, it is a brave narrative gambit in 2015’s Spectre to have bond literally saving the world from a sinister group seeking to do sinister things.
This time Bond REALLY saves the world, overcoming insidious plots to overtake the internet and subvert the intelligence agencies of good upstanding nations, bringing an entire shadowy organisation and its to its knees during a boat trip down the Thames and then literally getting the girl, a new car and a holiday once he is done.
It’s all so neat, you briefly wonder what the real life fuss is about a good upstanding government potentially knowing about our every move and dirty Skype chat.
Yet the film ultimately left a not entirely comfortable realisation that in the real world, we don’t have James Bond and the clear cut intentions of the nefarious Spectre organisation to blame for turning the vast potential of the internet against us.
Instead, we have Edward Snowden and a Conservative government.
Whether you choose to see him as hero or villain, Snowden shows us the real nature of spy stories with their complexities, nuance, and general lack of bullet proof Aston Martins.
What we are therefore left with ambiguous political shorttermism and an urgent need for a national debate over the realistic needs of the security services and what they should be able to know about us.
Understandably most of us would probably pick Spectre over reality, unless Edward Snowden suddenly decides the best way to save us is to throw Theresa May out of a window and reset the entire internet for a few minutes.
Spectre informs us at its climax that “James Bond will return” perhaps next time to tackle aids, social inequality or the wider root causes of human suffering. He’s the world’s greatest secret agent afterall.
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