Near the end of Casino Royale, the 2006 film that rebooted the James Bond franchise, our hero (Daniel Craig) finds himself naked and tied to a chair in a dank basement as his nemesis prepares to castrate him.
Even at this early stage in Bond's career, his enemies believe that, perhaps more than any man on earth, 007 cannot be a hero without his balls.
Or can he?
Quantum of Solace, which arrives in theaters on November 14, presents an almost entirely desexualized James Bond. The new 007 persona is at startling odds with the wink-and-a-drink lothario dreamed up by the novelist Ian Fleming in 1953 and embellished on the silver screen by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan. Even compared with his personage in Casino Royale, the 007 of Quantum is basically a grunting eunuch.
Our new hero has found that his capacity for love and his susceptibility to loss are more powerful than his hunger for tail. Is this the James Bond people want?
Early in the film we are introduced to Camille (Olga Kurylenko), the impossibly gorgeous Bolivian agent whose own mission (to kill the ex-dictator who murdered her family) quickly becomes entwined with Bond's. Sparks (and speedboats) fly when the two agents meet. But an hour later, just about the time Bond would normally be unhooking Camille's bra, the two rogues share a platonic embrace and go their separate ways. Bond, still emotionally closed since losing his last love, Vesper, explains that his objective is to avenge an attack on his maternal overseer, M (Judi Dench). This one's for mom.
Try finding that coda in Goldfinger or Die Another Day, in which Bond is more impervious to emotion than he is to bullets. Our new hero has found that his capacity for love and his susceptibility to loss are more powerful than his hunger for tail. Is this the James Bond people want? It depends whom you ask.
The new Bond is unmistakably a hero of the 21st century, when his baggage sells tickets. Some have compared him with Jason Bourne, the amnesiac contract assassin who made Matt Damon a household name. Like Bond, Bourne kills his way to the truth. But the better parallel is found in the rejuvenated Batman series, which has stripped its central character of his outdated penthouse charm (à la Adam West and Michael Keaton, neither of whom appeared out of uniform without arm candy), and focused morbid attention on his self-esteem. These are dark and lonely times for our action stars. Much like Bruce Wayne, James Bond is accustomed to having a lot more sex.
When the first Bond film, Dr. No, was released in 1962, the superagent's masculinity was measured as much by his domination of women as by pistol skills. Nearly 50 years later, it is measured by the cuts on his face and the scars in his soul. Of course, the character is more difficult to pin down now—thanks to the rejiggering of the series' chronology, he is at once younger than he was in Dr. No, yet fighting eco-terrorists in 2008. In Quantum, Bond is still inexperienced, unaware of himself, and about as romantic as a rottweiler. Maybe he just needs time to blossom into the man who seduced the globe in the seamy '60s.
Or is this dispassionate killer the one Fleming first envisioned? The author, a notorious womanizer who had served in the Naval Intelligence Division of the Admiralty, once called his creation a "highly romanticized version of a true spy." But most agree that Fleming based Bond on himself, infusing the character with both the cold ferocity and the magnetism that he did not fully possess.
Initially, studios rejected the idea of adapting Bond for the screen not on account of his immodest sexuality, not is bloodlust. But the immediate success of Dr. No with male and female viewers alike showed that belly dancers and unsheathed innuendos would be essential elements in any tale of espionage told in the 1960s. After Fleming died in 1964, the cold war thawed, the counterculture evolved, and Bond's libido became his defining characteristic. But by the 1990s, Brosnan smirked his way into sexual parody and invisible missile-loaded cars received top billing.
The version of Bond that Hollywood has offered over the span of 22 movies has always been decided by the prevailing desires of the era. This Bond is joining us in an uncertain time—heartbroken, confused, vengeful, and chugging his martinis rather than just sipping them.