Introduction to James Bond 007 Retrospective

In 1953 English author and former intelligence agent Ian Fleming published Casino Royale, a Cold War spy thriller starring a handsome, calculating British secret service agent pitted against ruthless Russian spies in a quest to disavow a corrupt financier. That British agent was named James Bond, and he soon became the most popular fictional British character of the twentieth century. In 1962, Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s EON Productions released Dr. No, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s sixth James Bond novel, starring Sean Connery as the popular secret agent sent on a secret mission to Jamaica. Cinema has never been the same.

It has been 53 years since Bond first appeared on the silver screen, and in all those years Bond has gone through multiple incarnations. Six different actors have officially appeared as James Bond on screen: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. As the 24th film in the franchise, Spectre—once again starring Daniel Craig as Agent 007—is set to release on November 6th of this year, we three brothers believe it time to look back on the franchise as a whole. We’ll review each individual Bond film (including the three unofficial Bond films), leading up to Spectre’s release. As well, we’ll have roundtable discussions about each actor’s cumulative contribution to the series, and perhaps even some stray essays discussing singular aspects of the franchise’s influence.

The Bond series is one of our favourite cinematic franchises and the huge recent success of Skyfall proved that it remains popular in the culture at large. We hope to bring some new focus to this enduringly popular series of films by asking questions both familiar and novel. We’ll address some of the eternal questions—Who is the best James Bond? What’s the best Bond film? What’s the worst?—but also try to move beyond the usual points of discussion. How does each actor make Bond their own? We generally think of Bond films as first and foremost franchise films, but do certain directors leave their mark, or exert more authorial control over the character? How does form, and not just content, shape each film (and we’ll look beyond the opening gun barrel)?

Though we won’t be exhaustive in regards to adaptation, we will sometimes consider the relation between Ian Fleming’s books and the films, while also trying to connect the films to broader trends in the history of film. Is Dr. No just a ripoff of North by Northwest like Hitchcock thought? Everyone thinks of Live and Let Die in terms of 1970s blaxploitation, but how does GoldenEye reflect the trend for more sensitive male heroes in the early 1990s? How much of a 2000s reboot is Casino Royale? And what are we to make of the three unofficial Bond films (Casino Royale 1954 and 1967, Never Say Never Again)?

As the James Bond series is an influential cinematic institution in its own right, each individual Bond film is first and foremost a Bond movie, demanding to be examined in the context of the franchise as a whole. However, Bond films are also genre films. They are inherently spy thrillers, but they also flirt with other genres like science fiction, revenge, and even romance. We’ll be sure to incorporate discussion of genre into our writings on the franchise.

So get out your Blu-rays (or old VHS tapes) or catch the latest TV marathon and follow along as we journey back through the James Bond 007 series. Our retrospective will begin with Aren’s flashback review of 1962’s Dr. No and continue along chronologically from there, a new piece every week or two.