Since yesterday my mind is racing because of a paragraph in Robert McKee’s book STORY that deals with James Bond (and Rambo) and the reason for his massive success. One reason is the big insight I got of screenwriting, or to be more precise of character creation and the other one is a feeling that McKee indeed hit the spot, but on the same time missed some other ones:

“Compare that flat pattern to James Bond. Three seems to be the limit on Rambo’s, but there have been nearly twenty Bond films. Bond goes on and on because the world delights in the repeated revelation of a deep character that contradicts characterization. Bond enjoys playing the lounge lizard: Dressed in a tuxedo, he graces parties, a cocktail glass dangling from his fingertips as he chats up beautiful women. But then the story pressure builds and Bond’s choices reveal that underneath his lounge lizard exterior is a thinking man’s Rambo. This exposé of witty super-hero in contradiction to playboy characterization has become a seemingly endless pleasure.”

Character Revelation…

Take THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH as an example. Two scenes come to mind when I think about this movie: The first scene or moment is, when the explosion occurs in the beginning of the movie. When Bond notices the mysterious substance he doesn’t call for security but runs to the man in danger himself. He doesn’t wait for a split second but jumps into action. After his failure he looks outside the building and notices a small boat and gets some rounds of bullets sent to him. What does he do in this pressure? He again jumps into action without any second guessing.

(Side note: why does the killer sit in a boat on an empty river? It seems that to be a killer means to be stupid *lol*)

The second scene is at the end of the movie, which in my eyes contains one of the biggest character revelations in years: When James Bond is about to save the day at the lighthouse (?), he frees his boss M and runs to the top of the building. There Sophie Marceau’s character Elektra is waiting for him. He prompts Elektra to call her “lover” off on the submarine. Yet, she doesn’t. In the second in which she tells him to go on he shoots her without hesitation.

When you take all the movies into account in which he “chats up beautiful women” this is the scene in which the underlying agent, the man’s thinking Rambo, truly comes to surface, as this one is the biggest revelation of all. Normally you would say that James Bond is the one who saves the day and the beautiful woman. In a way this was the case with this movie, too. Yet, it was not the main woman but the cliché lady they had to include so he would have the chance to bang something at the end.

Of course, he killed women before, yet in all cases they were in a way killer-ladies out to destroy him. This time it was an unharmed lady with a big problem in her head. For me, this was the boldest move of the “old” franchise in a long time.

…and more than that

But is this contradiction of characterization (manners, appearance, wy of living etc.) and character the only source of the success of this franchise as McKee implies?

I don’t think so.

Of course, it is an important element but not the only one let alone the biggest. It is a combination of many elements.

In my eyes, another factor is the what-if-scenario or the wouldn’t-it-be-cool-scenario.

To some degree we all want to be heroes and save the day. We want to do big things and be loved by everyone. James Bond does all this. The franchise offers us a world in which a hero saves the days elegantly and is being loved by everyone (and, more importantly, the beautiful women). If you compare this world and its main character with Rambo, a broken, poor and unloved Vietnam veteran, the choice is easy. We all would take James Bond.

This is also the reason why Rambo, with each iteration in the franchise, became more and more of a joke. The character arc of Rambo was finished at the end of movie 1. And you cannot create a franchise out of a broken, poor and unloved Vietnam veteran.

In the case of Bond’s success there is one last element that in my eyes is responsible for its early and long success but late downfall until CASINO ROYALE: the gadgets.

Let’s be frank, the gadgets of James Bond are cool. Sometimes they are even too cool be on film. And many watch the movie just for the cool gadgets.

I still remember the discussion I had with a friend of mine about CASINO ROYALE. While I loved it, he hated it because it missed the cool things with which Bond could play around. For him, DIE ANOTHER DAY was one of the best Bond movies of all time, simply because of all that Sci-Fi stuff going on in there (invisible cars, big monster lasers and the more). The gadgets are not the sole reason for the franchise’s longevity though but they are an important factor, as my friend is a good example.

There might be some other factors involved in the success (the cool villains and the cool way they die, for example) but I believe that those are not as important as the ones above.

It will be interesting to see how QUANTUM OF SOLACE despite its stupid title will continue the new character arc of the ruthless and unpolished character to the one we know and love.

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