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LONDON, Oct 21, (AFP): In his five decades seducing cinemagoers, James Bond has foreshadowed social revolutions and the rise of multinational terrorist organisations, turning into a popular culture icon along the way. And with his 24th silver-screen assignment “Spectre” due to premiere on Oct 26, the British spy seems more popular than ever.
His last outing in “Skyfall” took over $1 billion (880 million euros) at the box office. Despite the flurry of speculation about whether a female Bond or a black Bond could spruce up the brand, it seems to be working well just as it is. Experts put Bond’s longevity down to an age-old fascination with glamour, but also to the imagination of author Ian Fleming, who foresaw great upheavals in social attitudes and geopolitics when he created the character in 1953.
“Bond was a counter-cultural figure, a figure… of the sexual revolution,” said Stephen Watt, a professor of English at Indiana University and author of “Ian Fleming and James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007”. “At the same time, he is both a loyal subject and a sophisticate who likes expensive cars, gold-ringed cigarettes especially made for him, excellent champagne, and much more.”
As the sexual revolution ran its course and feminism became a strong force in western politics, the spy was accused of being out of touch and has even been called “sexist and misogynistic” by current big-screen Bond, Daniel Craig. But old-fashioned machismo will always remain part of his appeal, said Watt.
“In a 1964 interview in Playboy… Fleming observed that ‘seduction has, to a marked extent, replaced courtship’,” he said.
“This was only one of the many prescient ideas Fleming voiced, and seduction — along with style, sophistication, and excitement — will always be a part of the Bond franchise.” Craig has been credited with improving the brand’s image by exploring the complexities of Fleming’s character.
“There’s no doubt that the nature of the Bond films has changed with Daniel Craig,” said James Chapman, professor of film studies at the University of Leicester and author of “Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films.”
“The Bond they have today is more contemporary, and slightly more rough-edged.” Fleming had described Bond as a “believable man,” Watt said. “I think he might have meant emotionally vulnerable.”
“‘Skyfall’ hints at this by returning Bond to his childhood home, an old caretaker, and a simple rural church and by his reaction to M’s death,” he said of the character who plays Bond’s boss.
“No matter how escapist the action gets, these human dimensions of affection and emotional fragility remain. “The franchise fails when Bond evokes comparison with mere action heroes,” he added.
In the new film, which will receive its star-studded Royal Premiere in London, Bond will once again do battle with global criminal agency SPECTRE, which made its first appearance in 1971 classic “Diamonds Are Forever”.
Although a homage to the traditional super-enemy of Bond’s past, the SPECTRE group plays on very modern fears, helping the franchise remain relevant, said Watt.
“Fleming was uncannily prescient about… a world where bad actors typically don’t represent states, but multinational terrorist networks like SPECTRE,” he said.
“Bond thus gets to have both an old-fashioned ‘showdown’ with the evil gunslinger at high noon and continue after the fight because the network and its cells extend well beyond a villain or a nation.”
Sneak previews of the new film hint at a treat for devotees and nostalgists, with references to iconic moments from previous films set to further strengthen the Bond myth.
Despite its current success, Craig’s recent comment that he would rather “slit my wrists” than sign up for the role again suggests a cloud on the horizon.
The possible identity of his successor has already caused controversy, with Anthony Horowitz — author of the latest Bond novel — saying that “The Wire” actor Idris Elba was “too street” to play 007, sparking accusations of racism.
But Chapman dismissed speculation about a black or female Bond as “a media storm in a teacup” and refused to rule out another outing for Craig.
“One assumes this is simply round one in the negotiations around his fee for Bond 25!” he joked.
Former pro wrestler and rising Hollywood star Dave Bautista is joining one of cinema’s most exclusive families in his new role as a James Bond villain.
As Mr Hinx in “Spectre,” the latest adventure of the unflappable 007 due out in Britain next week and most everywhere else in early November, Bautista joins a pantheon of bad guys that are at least as interesting as the British spy himself.
Fans are especially fond of Jaws — the towering Richard Kiel, who bit through power cables with his metal teeth as he faced off against Roger Moore in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” in the 1970s.
There is also Spain’s Javier Bardem as a twisted cyberterrorist in “Skyfall” (2012) and Denmark’s Mads Mikkelsen as crime lord Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale” (2006).
Bautista, 46, hopes to add his Mr Hinx to the list.
He says the experience of filming a Bond movie “on top of a mountain in Austria” was a dramatic turnaround from his rough-and-tumble childhood in “the worst streets of Washington,” where he had become a car thief by age 13.
It “feels like you’re in a dream,” Bautista told AFP in an interview, adding that Bond is “like the ultimate superhero, but real.”
Bautista’s Mr Hinx works for the shadowy criminal group SPECTRE — the acronym for Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.
The other lead bad guy — Franz Oberhauser, portrayed by Austrian Oscar winner Christoph Waltz — is also a SPECTRE member.
The network is not new to Bond faithful. It was first introduced on the silver screen in the very first film starring the super-spy, the classic “Dr. No” from 1962 starring Sean Connery as 007.
In the film, Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who had metal prostheses in place of his lost hands, reveals to Bond that he belongs to the criminal network.
Bautista, who stands at 6’4” (1.93 meters) and whose enormous biceps are liberally tattooed, certainly looks the part of a formidable Bond nemesis.
But he said the choreographed on-screen fighting with the spy in the form of Daniel Craig did not always go smoothly, despite his time as a wrestler and mixed martial artist.
“There were lots of bumps and bruises,” Bautista said. “Daniel hurt his knee.”
Did he emerge unscathed? “Dan punched me in the nose,” he said.
Bautista had more tender remembrances of his interaction with his female co-stars.
He admitted to going weak in the knees around Italian actress Monica Bellucci, calling her “breathtakingly beautiful but extremely sexy.”
As for French actress Lea Seydoux, who also appears in the movie, Bautista was impressed by her soft beauty.
“There’s something almost angelic about her,” he said. “When she smiles, she lights up a room.”
Bautista, an American of Filipino descent, grew up in a neighborhood where violence and crime were common.
As a teenager, Bautista discovered bodybuilding, which he credits as ending his stint as an underage car thief.
He worked as a bouncer, and in the 2000s launched a career as a professional wrestler. He won the World Wrestling Entertainment heavyweight championship six times, garnering along the way an enthusiastic following among wrestling fans.
Bautista gets nostalgic when remembering his days as star of the ring.
“Sometimes I miss the entertainment aspect of it,” he said.
A key influence in his move to acting was another wrestler — The Rock, now better known as Dwayne Johnson, star of action films including several in the “Fast and Furious” series.
Bautista’s Hollywood adventure began in 2006 in minor television roles, which led to big-screen parts in “The Man with the Iron Fists” (2012) with Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, and “Riddick” (2013) with Vin Diesel. His biggest hit came as Drax the Destroyer, one of a crew of misfits led by Chris Pratt in last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
The Disney/Marvel studio film, a global megahit, turbo-charged his career. In upcoming movies, Bautista will star in “Heist” along with Robert De Niro, “Marauders” with Bruce Willis, and as the main villain in a remake of the Jean-Claude Van Damme 1980s action film “Kickboxer.”
Of course, Bautista will also return as Drax in a “Guardians” sequel. He is however modest about his success. “I don’t want to be a movie star,” he said. “I want to play great characters.”