60 years of James Bond: Western anxieties on the big screen, from the Soviets to Covid-19

A psychopath born of Nazi experiences, Soviet agents, a Briton refusing the decolonization of Hong Kong: in sixty years of existence in the cinema, James Bond has rubbed shoulders with a whole host of heterogeneous enemies.

From the Cold War to Covid-19, these villains have reflected the geopolitical fears of Westerners, but the franchise, preoccupied with foreign markets, is now struggling to keep up with changing international relations.

The role of James Bond in the novels invented by Ian Fleming is clear: 007 has the task of defending the “free world” against the Soviet threat. This concern, shared by a large part of the Western world, eclipses the themes specific to the United Kingdom.

Nuclear threat in 1962

In 1962, for his arrival on the big screen, James Bond confronts Doctor No, who threatens to trigger the nuclear apocalypse. The saga fits with the great fear of the time, the Soviet-American confrontation in Cuba raising fears of an atomic war between the two superpowers.

Bond’s interest in the USSR seems to be mutual: according to Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent who defected in 1985, the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party would have viewed the films of the British secret agent. The KGB, he assures, would have even tried to reproduce his famous gadgets.

In the 1970s, the relationship between the capitalist bloc and its communist enemy relaxed, and James Bond followed suit. Roger Moore works hand in hand with a KGB agent in The Spy Who Loved Mereleased in 1977.

James Bond decorated by the USSR

In 1985, while Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met several times, James Bond received in dangerously yours the Order of Lenin, the highest honor of the Soviet Union.

After the fall of the latter in 1991, Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond accompanies the transition to a unipolar world marked by the emergence of transnational threats. He confronts financial criminals, techno-terrorists and a North Korean, at the exact moment when George W. Bush presents Pyongyang as belonging to “axis of evil”.

Until then, the universe of 007 is Manichean. “The opacity of the world of espionage is absent”, writes Francesco Mancini on the site of the School of Public Policy at the University of Singapore. We have to wait for Daniel Craig to see James Bond enter “the age of ambiguity”. It is no longer as obvious as before to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.

Silence on China

Without making James Bond a model of the genre, its creators sought to adapt to the spirit of the times in another way, by rubbing shoulders with issues of identity. “I think you are a misogynistic and sexist dinosaur, a relic of the cold war”, launched his chef “M” in 1995.

At the same time, 007 has lost track of the new geopolitical deal. As the competition between great powers heats up again, James Bond remains surprisingly silent. Russia, which poisons its ex-agents on British soil and seeks to seize ex-Soviet territory by force, is not mentioned. No more than China, whose rivalry with the United States is a new central issue in international relations.

Towards more universal threats

One of the reasons for these shortcomings comes from the popularization of James Bond outside the West. “To launch an international phenomenon, it is necessary that the hero be accepted as widely as possible. The line between right and wrong must therefore move, ignoring nationality and ethnicitywrites Bo Manuel Raber in an article published by the University of Trier. Nazis and Communists are replaced by more universal threats. » Like the fear of a pandemic of criminal origin in Dying can wait in 2021.

More prosaically, the will to conquer new markets can also explain the tepidity of the current creators of James Bond. They would not be the only ones in Hollywood to make this calculation: according to the analysis of Matt Schrader, quoted by Foreign Policyonly seven American films have portrayed China in a negative light since 1997.


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