The James Bond reboots starring Daniel Craig are the first films in the franchise to be produced post September 11, 2001, which place them in the unique position to revitalize the revered MI6 spy for modern audiences. The character of James Bond has captivated us for years, serving as a literary and cinematic icon of the golden age of espionage. Now, as we enter an age of heightened threat and uncertainty, it is only natural that James Bond be recreated to tackle the unique threats of the twenty-first century.
There are many threats that have become part of our normal discourse since 9/11, with the most popular topics often related to terrorism, cyber warfare, and mass surveillance. Although nontraditional warfare has been in existence since the beginning of time, our closest historical memories are often of wars fought between nation-state actors, where the distinction between friend and foe was determined by a flag. Since 2001, we have noticed a deviation in war tactics, primarily by what we consider to be non-nation-state actors; that is: individuals or groups of individuals. They are not sovereign nations, but their actions are often attacks on the citizens of sovereign nations. This shift has changed the landscape of war and espionage as we know it. There is no well-defined set of international laws to govern the behavior of how nation-states respond to the actions of non-nation-state actors, leaving many intelligence agencies acting in questionable grey zones.
Coinciding with this rise of non-nation-state versus nation-state conflict is the digital revolution. Increasingly, more online spaces are becoming new fronts to defend from cyber warfare and cyberterrorism. With no real precedent on how to monitor and contain an ever-expanding digital frontier, intelligence agencies are pushing for more widespread surveillance. In an increasingly global online world, it is almost impossible to have focused surveillance, which has led to mass surveillance in the name of national security, even if these practices infringe upon the democratic principles of personal freedom and privacy.
So where does James Bond fit in with this new world order? This is what Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015) address, shifting the narrative of the franchise to parallel our post 9/11 reality: a world that is in a state of constant threat of terrorism and cyber warfare from unknown adversaries. Both films use the threat of non-nation-state actors to reveal how opaque the global landscape has become, and how attitudes towards traditional espionage have changed when confronting terrorist threats and cyber-attacks. They may also serve as a precautionary tale of the over-reliance on technology, reminding us how easily systems are hacked, abused, and used for nefarious purposes.
These films bring Bond into the twenty-first century by forcing him to navigate this new, uncharted, and unregulated battlefield that is the post 9/11 world. While attempting to survive, he must also vie for legitimacy and relevancy in an age where it is believed that human intelligence has been vastly out-performed by automated surveillance. And though reinvented for new audiences, the character has not entirely lost what makes him James Bond. Instead, he emerges as a balanced hybrid of old and new, which allows the reboot to be both political commentary and literary homage to one of the world’s most famous spies.