After the release of a new trailer, the premiere of James Bond’s latest adventure—titled “No Time to Die”—is now less than two months away. Bond fans have waited nearly five years for the franchise’s 25th installment to hit theaters, with “Spectre” premiering way back in November 2015.
It is easy to understate the impact of “Bond, James Bond.” But it endures: The British super-spy heads up the longest-running movie franchise in cinematic history (if you discount Godzilla), which speaks to the millions of Bond fans who tune in. The franchise’s 23rd installment, “Skyfall,” grossed more than $1 billion globally on its own. All in all, the Bond franchise has grossed over $7 billion since the release of the 1962 classic “Dr. No.” That’s nearly six decades of box office dominance.
Yet Bond’s impact transcends box-office totals. His fans watch for the beautiful locales and death-defying stunts, but there is much, much more to the appeal. For decades, the iconic character has served as a role model for boys and even men, who strive to model their behavior after the Bond persona in the films. According to a 2019 survey, more than 80 percent of men consider Bond a “positive role model.” Even women are on board: Despite drawing the ire of “woke” feminists over the years, nearly 70 percent of women reject the notion that the fictional secret agent perpetuates “damaging stereotypes about masculinity”—even with his womanizing ways.
I, for one, also reject that notion. Bond is a flawed character, and that’s the point. In the movies and in the original works of Ian Fleming, Bond’s shortcomings temper the fantastical elements of the character and his adventures with the gritty side of Cold War-era espionage. Bond may be a male ideal, but he retains uniquely human characteristics—from anger, jealousy, and fear to love and patriotism. To describe him simply as a “misogynist dinosaur,” who goes out of his way to take advantage of women, is naive at best and deeply disingenuous at worst.
In the 1953 novel Casino Royale, Bond endures torture at the hands of a Soviet paymaster for Queen and country, and is ultimately hospitalized. Upon recovery, he falls in love with a woman, Vesper Lynd, who eventually betrays him and commits suicide. Left in tears, Bond is forced to relegate “their love and his grief” to the “boxroom of his mind.” This comes from the last chapter of Casino Royale, titled “The Bleeding Heart.”
At the end of the 1969 film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Bond similarly mourns the unexpected death of his one and only wife, Tracy. Viewers are not left with the image of a “misogynist dinosaur,” but rather an image of a man whose life is shattered by the loss of his beloved companion.
Is Bond always a model citizen, with women and otherwise? Of course not. Again, that’s the point: Bond fans consume Bond content not only for his fearless feats on behalf of Her Majesty, but also because his vices make him all-too-human.
Our role models do not need to be perfect. And, in Bond’s case, the virtues so outweigh the flaws that it becomes ridiculous to harp on the character’s most “toxic” elements.
I’ll take it one step further: Even in 2020, Millennials can learn and appreciate much about James Bond, so much so that it can lead us all to strive for self-improvement in our everyday lives. Especially in 2020, with the concept of “toxic masculinity” entering the mainstream, James Bond provides a blueprint that boys and men can follow to become their best selves.
What sticks out most, at least to me, is Bond’s capability: In any situation, he is capable. Bond is a top-notch golfer and skier who also excels in close combat. He is an expert on the “finer things”—from the art of cocktail-making to high-end food pairings and bespoke tailoring—and he leverages that expertise to seduce the world’s most beautiful women. (For the record, the seduction is consensual.) According to Judi Dench’s M, Bond is even the “the best [card] player in the service” (baccarat in the books, poker on-screen).
This suggests the highest level of curiosity on Bond’s part. He is fascinated by the intricacies of the world, taking up hobbies and mastering them for personal gain and sheer enjoyment. Bond’s versatility lands him a seat at any table.
What is life, if not a constant quest of self-improvement? Unfortunately, many of today’s Millennials fail to venture outside their comfort zones and push themselves to pick up new and interesting activities, either out of fear, complacency, or outright laziness.
As Dennis Prager once wrote in National Review, the Millennial generation is one “bereft of passions beyond amusement.” This is not just a conservative worldview: In 2015, Elite Daily writer Dan Scotti (a Millennial) asked the question, “Why don’t Millennials have hobbies anymore?” In his words: “Sure, I have interests. Even passions. But rarely will they ever manifest into hobbies, past maybe a Google search and some reading online.” Scotti said the same for his Millennial friends, none of whom have hobbies.
Of course, there are millions of Millennials who do have hobbies, but the age of on-demand entertainment has inundated us with more distractions than ever before—distractions that get in the way of self-improvement. That is one of the reasons why we need James Bond. We may never reach Bond’s level of proficiency in skiing or seduction—after all, he is a fictional character—but he can show us that it is possible and even principled to strive.
Bond’s capability also accentuates two other “C’s”: Confidence and courage. Bond may be inherently confident and courageous, but his interest in such a wide range of hobbies and mastery of so many activities prepares him to confront the most extraordinary circumstances, even life-and-death situations. In part because he is so confident in his abilities, Bond is confident enough to seduce a woman as desirable as Vesper Lynd—and dozens more like her. Similarly, his capability (and confidence in his capability) help Bond conjure up the courage to take on the world’s most dangerous villains and emerge victorious.
Again, Bond still needs to be courageous at the most fundamental level, but it is only amplified by faith in oneself. You can’t ski the slopes of Schilthorn confidently and courageously if you’re not capable of reaching the bottom in one piece.
Even here, we can learn from the British super-spy. No, the average man will never seduce dozens of supermodels over the course of his life—and shouldn’t. And, no, the average man will never have his courage tested by a need to save the world. However, the Bond franchise still illuminates the power of capability. Moreover, it leaves the legacy of a rugged, Bondian sort of individualism that can make us all better men, one by one. This is especially true for Millennials distracted by the conveniences of the 21st century.
If you strive for self-improvement, who knows that can happen? That is the question that James Bond asks of us all, and there’s nothing “toxic” about it.
Catalyst articles by Luka Ladan