No American 007?

March 9, 2012

So, Safe House kind of got me thinking…well, no it didn’t really get me thinking, but I got stuck waiting for the SkyTrain with a dead iPhone, and before I could completely retreat to my happy place, a…kind of a thought took hold, and dammit I just couldn’t go complete zombie. I thought about James Bond—no surprise there, since thinking about 007 easily takes up, like, 30-40% of my thought processes (not just the conscious ones, either)— and I got wonder about the existence of the James Bond franchise in a world that embraces movies like Safe House.  Why has there never been an American James Bond? Could there ever be an American James Bond?

Short answer: No. And there are a couple reasons for that. First off, American movie heroes aren’t really good at the whole “suave and sophisticated” thing. We mainly like our action heroes  wearing T-shirts and mullets. Characters in suits are usually pencil-necked weenies who try to keep the T-shirt-clad, bemulleted good guys from doing what needs to be done: namely laying waste to whole city blocks on a good day. Americans action heroes just don’t do stylish particularly well.

And when they do it goes horribly, horribly wrong. Horribly.

Then there’s the whole “international intrigue” thing. As Americans, we don’t really grok on other countries. Yeah, we know they’re out there (even if we can’t find them on a map), but mostly we don’t pay attention to them if we’re not bombing them or we don’t share a border. Bottom line: if they don’t have mooses or margaritas, we want nothing to do with them.

If I can’t drive there, it just sucks.

But the biggest reason is that the idea of a good, company-man, CIA agent is totally antithetical to the way Americans see their intelligence apparatus. That’s where Safe House comes in. Yeah, I ragged on it for not having a worldview beyond “CIA=bad,” but I also couldn’t think of any movie in which the intelligence service is the white knight. I spent the evening in the local Irish Pub racking my brain for examples, but then the waitresses smiled at me and I got distracted. So, over the course of the next couple days I pondered this, trying to think of movies that showed the CIA in a heroic or, hell, even a positive light. Here’s the best I could do:

Any Adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel: Well, this is a no-brainer. Pretty much everyone in government is a good guy in Clancy-land. The FBI, CIA, all branches of the military, all the way up to the White House, they’re all solid, decent, hard-working white men working to save you from the non-white people (and weirdly-accented white people) who want nothing more than to invade the US and take our women…and probably pee in our wells, too. Hell, there’s gotta be a scene deleted from The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games or Clear and Present Danger or The Sum of All Fears which features a patriotic visit to the DMV. I bet there are a lot of horns on the soundtrack in that scene. And a lot of middle-aged white guys working there.

“Wow! I like to shop at Banana Republic, too!”

Burn Notice:  Hey look, another spy named M. Weston! Kinda tells you how lazy the writers of Safe House are. But putting this aside, yeah the long-running TV show is based on the premise that Michael Weston was forced out of his job by some shady machinations within the labyrinthine shadoes of the CIA. Still, inherent in that premise is the fact that Weston believes his job is important and worth returning to. We even get to see him working as a proxy to protect the country. You kinda get the feeling that if the CIA spent less time dicking around with their secret plans shit like 9/11 wouldn’t happen. That’s kind of a running theme here…

So many pleasure centers in my brain just lit up, I can barely see…

Homeland: Have you watched this show on Showtime? It rocks. No, really, you gotta check it out, but don’t read any spoilers. Just watch the whole season in a block, because the suspense will kill you. Anyway, while our main CIA character played by Claire Danes is mentally unstable and obsessed, the agency itself is fundamentally right-headed, trying to prevent a possible terrorist attack. Mandy Patinkin’s Saul is the most sympathetic CIA agent, maybe in the history of film.

Felix Leiter in the Bond franchise:  Bond’s best friend and stalwart partner in a bunch of the films, Felix is as unambiguously good as Bond himself. Of course, he mostly just watches and occasionally shows up with the cavalry while Bond does all the heavy lifting…it’s actually not too different from the way our intelligence services actually work, when you think about it.

“James, you go after Dr. No. I think I just saw Castro.”

Spy Game: Did you see this? I didn’t see this. Robert Redford’s face scared me too much. It was all wrinkly and shaped like a throw-pillow. He plays the mentor of a younger agent played by Brad Pitt, and Brad is a good guy. I think. I mean, he must be, right? Robert Redford wouldn’t mentor a bad guy.

“You will never be as handsome as me, boy. Just stop trying.”

The Mission: Impossible series: Probably the closest thing we have to an American Bond franchise, this movie series—like the ‘60s TV show that spawned it—is steeped in a basic “good guys vs. bad guys” dichotomy. Sure, the first and third installments had the MI force compromised from within, but moles and traitors and staples of the genre. Underneath it all, we’re never meant to doubt the integrity of the mission. Or the batshit-crazy Scientoloigist carrying it out.

When the world is at stake, Xenu sends his very best…

 Fair Game: Based on the true story and memoirs of real-life spy Valerie Plame, intelligence work is presented as important and demanding of skill, smarts and hard work. And then it’s all shot to hell by a bunch of politicians who really, really liked invading stuff. Of course, Plame herself is somewhat to blame for marrying an Ambassador and being a dull housewife when not doing super-cool spy stuff. I mean, she’s a stone fox. She could have hooked up with James Bond easily–one of the good ones, like Brosnan or Craig.

The Good Shepherd: A lightly-fictionalized account of the birth of the modern CIA informs us that our monolithic intelligence service was created by a soulless bureaucrat so sexually-repressed that he could barely respond to a sexually-aggressive Angelina Jolie. Yep, the guy who created the CIA regarded freaky sex with Angelina Jolie as something to be feared and avoided. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

“God, you disgust me. Don’t come any closer…”

So, that’s all I could think of, but admittedly, the new waitress is pretty cute, so feel free to volunteer any examples I may have missed.


  1. I wouldn’t call Bond a “good company man” myself, as he is often going against orders and has higher body count than any other agent (if I remember correctly). He even gets his 00 status revoked in the terrible “Licensce to Kill.”

    • True, but he always goes back to MI6 and with the exception of the occasional mole or traitor, MI6 has never been shown as institutionally evil the way the CIA is in pretty every movie they show up in.

  2. What about Jason Bourne?

    • Bourne is probably the closest thing there is to an American 007, but with the exception of the Russians in the second one, the only antagonists are the CIA. He fits into the “CIA is evil” camp, as opposed to the company man that Bond is.

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