In recent years, James Bond’s morality has been hotly debated, becoming more controversial than when Maradona hand-scored against England during 1986’s World Cup. Using my advanced replay technology, aka my comprehensive Bond Blu-ray collection, we’ll settle this question once and for all. Is James Bond actually a good guy?
Author Ian Fleming has described his creation in a range of ways, most surprisingly as “an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened.” Yet, we as an audience, countless script writers, and Fleming himself, have built upon this to create an unwavering 007 archetype: Sophisticated but tough, capable, and aspirational.
Qualifying a “good guy”
Obviously, James Bond is the “good guy” in his stories. He’s our proxy in the narrative, and he saves the world from terrorists and megalomaniacs. Using human logic, that’s an objectively good thing.
Still, if we asked whether or not he’s a good guy (as in, is he a moral, upstanding citizen?), that would actually be easy too. Like all of us, he has flaws and good points, both of which are amplified because of his amplified existence.
Famously, Mr. Bond’s unholy trinity of bad traits are as follows: He kills, he womanizes, and he’s a drunk. Outside of James’ proxy, we’ll attempt to analyze how much these qualities compromise his good guy status.
Young James: A quick prequel
While Bond’s background varies per iteration, much of his Fleming-decreed childhood stays intact. James Herbert Bond is the son of Andrew Bond, a Scotsman, and Monique Delacroix, a Swiss national. At age 11, his parents died in a mountain climbing accident, and he was placed in the care of his aunt.
He graduated early from Eton, the boarding school of British royals. James then lied about his age to join the Ministry of Defense and eventually became a Royal Navy commander by the end of the war. Which war it was depends on the Bond era.
James kept doing secret agent work for the Ministry, eventually earning the Principal Officer of Civil Service rank, then, of course, double-o status.
What does Bond’s background say about his character?
He’s the opposite of a draft dodger, for one. If it were up to just his background, the answer to whether or not he’s a good guy would be a resounding yes.
Graduating early shows James is disciplined and eager. His intentions behind enrolling in the Ministry isn’t mentioned directly. However, we can assume it was out of patriotism and the urge to do what’s right, since that would be in-line with his character in the movies. His upper class family background, and wealth of career choices from his elite education, imply that he certainly didn’t need to enroll. Presumably, he isn’t a take-the-easy-road kind of gent.
Another hallmark of his character? James can probably go head-to-head with Scream’s Sidney Prescott in a who-has-more-trauma contest. Overall, every version of young Bond shows a character founded in courage, patriotism, and a ton of emotional issues.
Bond: A killer, a womanizer, and a drunk
As someone who peaked at tennis when I was 16, I understand that young Bond’s great early-life accomplishments don’t mean anything if he’s going to grow up to be a thirsty murderer.
But that’s the thing. Despite how many times he’s referred to as a murderer in No Time To Die, James isn’t one. Double-o status means that when he’s on the field, he has a license to kill to complete any mission, at his discretion. In Spectre, Blofeld reveals himself to be the architect behind all of James’ suffering. Yet, at the end of the movie, when the mission is accomplished, James doesn’t kill him when he has the chance.
Cruel and unnecessary kills
Throughout the 25-film franchise, James has a very small amount of cruel or unnecessary kills under his belt. Sure, quantifying a character’s “goodness” isn’t a numbers game. But, it’s impossible to keep an often-used archetype from acting outside of his true self, especially when he’s been subjected to countless writers and changing times. After all, Superman used to throw people off buildings in the ‘40s and Batman used to dance to go-go music in the ‘60s.
In The Man with the Golden Gun, Roger Moore’s Bond stuffs bite-sized villain, Nick Nack, in a suitcase, then traps him on the ship’s upper deck. The thing with the Roger Moore chapter though, is that sometimes humor and exaggeration take precedence, even over characterization. Lest we forget—in Moonraker, a gondola turns into a hover car, and in For Your Eyes Only, James hops into a little Citroën 2CV, while a circus-like musical score plays.
Moore’s Bond era has an irreverent parodic tone. Yes, these moments are canon to the story, but James’ behavior isn’t always canon to his character archetype.
There are three situations when Bond kills a neutralized threat. Once in The Spy Who Loved Me, and again in For Your Eyes Only. Both being Roger Moore romps, let’s chalk those up to character exaggeration again.
The supposed third (a favorite moment for those itemizing Bond’s sins) happens in Quantum of Solace. Bond is on top of a building with a villain. Said-threat is supposedly neutralized, but our tuxedoed spy throws him off anyway. The baddie is certainly disarmed, but not neutralized. He grabs James by the jacket, potentially taking him down with him. So James simply detaches him from his miraculously unwrinkled lapels, and down the henchman goes.
The cruelest kills
Quantum of Solace showcases Bond in one of his coldest moments. He leaves the film’s villain, Dominic Green, in the middle of the desert with a can of oil. Keep in mind that Greene spends the entirety of the movie trying to steal Bolivia’s water supply. He also killed a girl he had a crush on when he was 15 using an iron.
Other examples of brutal Bond kills include boiling Dr. No alive, and throwing a wheelchair-bound Blofeld down a chimney. The prior was a kill-or-be-killed situation. The latter? Handicaped or not, Blofeld is an evil mastermind who murdered his own father and sold secrets to the Nazis. Even in Bond’s few instances of ruthlessness, he’s killing irredeemably bad men.
Womanizer or casual lover?
Casino Royale is essentially an origin story, part of which explains why he distrusts people. He falls in love with Vesper Lynd, resigns from MI6 to be with her, and she betrays him.
Some claim that Craig’s 007 is defanged and overly-PC, and that the true James was always impervious to love. This camp forgets about the time Lazenby’s Bond marries Tracy DiVicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, right before she gets murdered.
Truly, Bond’s profession won’t let him be in relationships.
Bond girls vs the script writers
There are three cut-and-dry examples of James undefendably mistreating women. The first is in Goldfinger, during Bond’s and Pussy Galore’s spar session. Second, James aggressively pursues Patricia Fearing, a health spa professional, in Thunderball. These situations didn’t age well, though sadly, scenes like them weren’t uncommon in their day.
The third scene is in Live and Let Die. Bond girl Solitaire has fortune-telling powers that she’ll lose if she’s intimate with a man. Since she’s working for the villain, Roger Moore’s Bond convinces her that they belong together.
Bond was pretty bad to Solitaire, but so were the writers. Giving her powers based on staying away from guys is about as weirdly cruel as when Buffy’s love for Angel made him lose his soul.
The thin line between love and hate
Up until the most recent 007 movies, Bond writers often created a world where the lines between love and hate, lover and villain, were very thin. This is exemplified by the fact that Bond often partook in multi-course dinners with his enemies, breaking bread before trying to kill each other.
No Bond girl is done as dirty as Severine from Skyfall is. Yet, despite the fact they spend a night together, James has nothing to do with how disposable she is in the story.
Ultimately, James is a character that’s meant to be magnetic to women. What that means shifts in every era. Solitaire, Pussy Galore, and Pat Fearing aside, most of the mistreatment of Bond girls comes from the writers, not 007 himself. In fact, James often rescues these ladies from the unsavory situations writers put them in.
Bond has the ability to fall in love, but simply can’t. So instead, he dates around. If Barney Stintson and Samantha Jones are allowed to do this, he should be able to as well.
Using women as literal objects
Twice, our favorite superspy uses a woman as a shield from an attack. In Goldfinger, while Connery’s Bond is kissing Bonita, he sees an assassin’s reflection in her eye, then promptly swings her around to deflect a blow. He also uses Fiona Volpe as a human shield in Thunderball.
Both these women are villains, complicit in his attempted murder. Besides, he’s just as quick with male enemies. Killing bad guys is the business, and James is a closer.
Plus, without this ridiculous human shield bit, we wouldn’t have that priceless Austin Powers parody moment, undoubtedly one of the best “die already” scenes in film.
When it comes to processing his mental illnesses, Bond would do well to see a therapist, instead of treating life like it’s bottomless brunch. But that would be boring.
Connery’s Bond glamorously sips champagne, claiming that drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above 38 degrees Fahrenheit just “isn’t done.” Craig’s Bond downs whiskey after every traumatic fight scene in Casino Royale. As Bond makes his way into the modern age, he womanizes less and drinks more.
Can a high-functioning alcoholic be a good guy? Of course. Just look at John Adams.
Is James Bond an antihero?
James Bond, no matter how you cut it, isn’t a villain, though many consider him to be an antihero.
There are a few ways to define an antihero. One is as a protagonist who doesn’t embody conventional hero attributes, like courage, morality, and idealism. James doesn’t lack morality, and he definitely doesn’t lack courage. Whether or not he has idealism is debatable, but the fact he’s willing to risk his life to save the world so often, means there’s things in the world he loves.
Another quality of antiheroes is that they aren’t always morally sound in the pursuit of their goals, in action or intention. However, characters can grapple with their flaws and emotions as part of their journey without becoming antiheroes.
Remember when Harry Potter thought Sirius Black betrayed his parents, then declared he’d kill Sirius? That kid had real intentions to off someone for personal reasons. With true antiheros though, these flaws often lead to downfalls. Think Walter White in Breaking Bad.
Conversely, any time James Bond experiences a downfall, it’s never due to his womanizing, killing, or drunkenness. Vesper Lynd betrays Bond and destroys him emotionally. Tracy DiVicenzo is killed on their wedding day. And without giving away any spoilers, Bond’s courage and selflessness in No Time To Die result in him sacrificing his happiness yet again.
Bond’s downfalls come about because of his virtue, not his flaws. That means his flaws aren’t fatal. So on the spectrum, he’s more of a tragic hero than an antihero.
James Bond: A good guy of and beyond his time
James Bond, the archetype, is inherently good. He’s naturally empathetic but forced to be cold because of his profession and his deep trauma. He’s proven he can have loving relationships of all kinds, from Felix Leiter as a brother-type to Judi Dench’s M as a maternal figure.
James Bond documentarian, John Cork, says that “Bond [is created] in each generation’s image.” As the orthodoxy of the day evolves, the different treatments of the 007 fantasy may go in and out of social favor. Still, James Bond unchangingly represents glamor and fun on the surface, and courage, heroism, and patriotism at his core.