The franchise of Bond, James Bond has suffered the same fate as some other companies in corporate America: it has lost its brand identity due to a lack of focus. It is both confused and confusing. And the franchise has strayed from its core principles of duty, honor, and country.
With Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan, there was a sense of continuity of character and purpose. Those MI6 operatives were urbane epicures who travailed for queen and country and for the glory of the sport. Genteel and upbeat, they projected wit and optimism, saving Western civilization from the transnational organization SPECTRE and from one-off depraved miscreants seeking to annihilate the earth with nerve gas, contaminate the U.S. gold depository, distribute drugs, and destroy Silicon Valley. With vodka martinis, exotic women, and specially equipped cars designed by Q, the armorer, they had broad appeal in a dualistic or Manichean way: Bond, a “thin red line” against a massive adversary, faced off against pure evil. It was all that simple — and the plots were basically understandable.
But now, the franchise badly needs focus and a strategic makeover. First, the plots have become far too intricate. The last film, No Time To Die, required a couple of viewings plus a plot summary to “get it.”
Second, complicating the brand in No Time To Die was that 007 was a woman played by Lashana Lynch, while Bond was separately played by Daniel Craig — working for the CIA. This kind of confusion is damaging to a brand, which generally must evoke simple positioning in the mind of the beholder. Why are 007 and James Bond different people, and why does James Bond now work for the Americans? “What on Earth is going on with this confusing picture?” the viewer wonders.
Third, Daniel Craig himself, who has mercifully excused himself from the role of Bond of the future, is by no means a universally appealing personage. Surly and at times covered with grime and blood, he lacks a sense of mission and prefers to be a dark, brooding character — lacking in the schoolboy charm of his predecessors. Unable to radiate English pluck and optimism, he projects a gruff, negative attitude, portraying an MI6 operative who does not like his work and would rather be somewhere else — possibly in the gym, bench-pressing twice his bodyweight with a grimace. (RELATED: Savile Row Fights for Its Life Against Our Philistine Fashion Culture)
And fourth, even M has become moderately boring in the persona of Ralph Fiennes, a distinguished actor known for starring as Coriolanus in Shakespeare’s historical tragedy by that name. The original M, played by the late Bernard Lee, was a well-tailored, severe chap with a sense of derring-do. That same flinty ethos was projected by Robert Brown, Edward Fox, and Judi Dench in their roles as successors. By the time we get to Ralph Fiennes, however, M is morose and under siege in view of a merger of MI6 and MI5 to form the Centre for National Security. The new director general wishes to abolish the 00 Section — thinking it an anachronism lost in the modern world of high technology espionage and intercepts.
According to Ladbrokes, the British gambling firm established in the late 19th century, there are now 10 contenders for the role of Bond. As I have written in The American Spectator, Edris Elba could be a commanding presence in that role, and he is still a candidate. And certainly there are others. (RELATED: Elba, Idris Elba)
In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bond would be in his mid-to-late 30s. But the black art of evil has proliferated since the 1950s and 1960s when Fleming was writing. Since then, we have seen the number of hostile state and non-state actors increase: besides Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union of Fleming’s time, we now have China, Iran, and North Korea — plus non-state adversaries such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas, and countless cybercriminals operating out of garages everywhere.
Ladbrokes speculates that for Elba, who is 50, age could be a negative factor. However, the mere scale of bad actors now on the world stage should require a highly experienced intelligence operative with a couple of decades of field experience.
Above all, the producers of the next Bond film will have to decide: will Bond be fundamentally an old-school chap, or will he have more contemporary tastes and bearing? Or rather, will Bond order caviar and foie gras, or will he prefer kale and avocado toast?
Frank Schell is a business strategy consultant and former senior vice president of the First National Bank of Chicago. He is a Lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago and a contributor of opinion pieces to various journals.
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