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  • James Bond

October 28, 2015

James Bond is not a name that’s typically mentioned in discussions of humble foreign policy or the importance of enforceable property rights. Bond is a symbol of the dying power of the British Empire, and the general theme of his franchise is that the Empire isn’t going down without a fight.

In particular, there’s a strong sense in the series that being a government agent is a blank check for causing mayhem. As Peter Klein notes, Bond has a knack for recklessly destroying other people’s property in the name of carrying out Her Majesty’s business. In fact, it’s almost as if we give him a free pass because he’s a government agent. Bond can destroy and spy all he wants: for the audience, it’s business as usual. Do private-sector hitmen get the same treatment? Just the really cool ones, I guess.

In Spectre, however, some of the classic Bond conventions have changed. As with Daniel Craig’s previous outings as 007, Bond is bit more contemplative and self-conscious in this installment, leading to some reasonable attempts at character development. In fact, a good portion of the movie revolves around the previously-unthinkable question, “What if James Bond didn’t earn his living by killing people for the government?”

Better still, the movie isn’t afraid to criticize the surveillance state, which plays an important role in the story. The requisite supervillain convinces the world’s governments to combine their intelligence networks, allowing them to spy on a scale the NSA can only dream of. Happily, Bond and Co. end up working against the scheme, even though their outrage is sometimes motivated more by self-interest than public interest.

Of course, to balance things out, the film is also obliged to include the usual praise of “democracy,” the well-known panacea for all such government misbehavior. Yet here too Spectre seems to wink at the audience: one villain even asks mockingly why anyone would bother supporting, “democracy, whatever that is.”

Regardless of its politics though, I enjoyed the movie and recommend it to fans of the series. I especially appreciated the return of the titular criminal organization. I have to admit though, I miss the days when Spectre was an acronym: the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. There’s something to be said for truth in advertising. Sadly, if they used the same name today, they’d likely be sued by government for infringing its trademark.


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