He’s been pushed out of airplanes, shoved into shark-infested swimming pools, even threatened with lethal laser-beam circumcision. But now, after nearly 40 years on the screen, James Bond faces a danger so diabolically deadly, so shockingly sinister, it makes S.P.E.C.T.R.E. look like the Promise Keepers. Its for-your-glazed-eyes-only code name: B.O.R.E.D.O.M.
Last month, the 19th Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, began unspooling in multiplexes across the country. The most lavish and expensive 007 film ever made—the first with a budget over $100 million—it’s bursting with Bondian excess, from high-speed boat chases on the Thames to flying snowmobiles on the slopes of France. It’s got gadgets galore (X-ray specs, a rocket-firing BMW), nonstop stunts (including Bond dangling over London’s new Millennium Dome), and, of course, killer babes (like Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King, an oil heiress who gives 007 a bad case of gas).
For true believers—the sort of fans who pay $150 for a Danbury Mint miniature of Bond’s Aston Martin DB-5 (with a really nifty ejector seat that pops up through the roof)—for these hardcore Bond aficionados, World isn’t enough. Not by a long shot. Like a lot of the critics, we think its plot is a convoluted, twisted mess, its over-the-top action sequences a big yawn, its villain about as scary as a Teletubby; and as for Pierce Brosnan’s performance—let’s just call it Bland, James Bland.
No doubt World will make money, at least if it follows the pattern set by the last two Bond flicks (each grossed about $350 million worldwide). In fact, it’s already broken new box office ground for a Bond film, grossing a record $35.5 million its opening weekend. But even these impressive numbers could be seen as a disappointment, a shadow of the franchise’s former box office glory. Back in 007’s best days, the films were Titanic-size spectacles, the must-see Event Movies of their time. In 1965, for instance, Thunderball grossed a then-astounding $141 million worldwide—the equivalent of more than $800 million in the modern marketplace. Why isn’t Bond making that sort of dough today?
The sad fact is, after four decades, the franchise has grown more than stale—it’s ossified into self-parody, turned into Austin Powers without the jokes. Audiences still line up, but who out there still tingles upon hearing the first few bars of John Barry’s theme music, still pines for an exploding briefcase of their own, still believes Bond is cool? (Well, me, but then I need a life.) To put it as bluntly as Blofeld would, some of us believe it’s time to liquidate 007—at least in his current incarnation.
As it happens, there are those at Bond’s studio, MGM, who agree. Off the record, they’ll tell you that Bond desperately requires a make-over; they’ll tell you they’ve been quietly laboring to update the series for a younger, savvier audience (the under-30s, potentially the most profitable demographic—and one that doesn’t know Dr. No from Dr. Dre). They’re the studio execs who pushed the Gen-Y-friendly band Garbage onto World‘s soundtrack, suggested teen idol Denise Richards for a Bond girl, and tried—unsuccessfully—to put Bond on a snowboard instead of skis for that chase scene in the French Alps.