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Give James Bond cool gadgets again

Whither the watch laser

pierce brosnan as james bond hiding in the shadows in goldeneye Image: MGM
Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

Now that we’re approaching two years since the Daniel Craig era of James Bond definitively ended in No Time to Die, it likely won’t be long before fervent conversations about his replacement begin in earnest. To that, I say: Who cares. They’ll probably pick someone good, like Bad Bunny. Or someone bad, like one of the Impractical Jokers. Right now, I just want one thing for Bond, something that Craig’s Bond was never really able to enjoy: sick gadgets.

Spurred by the recent re-release of the classic Nintendo 64 game GoldenEye 007, I recently revisited the Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond films and remembered that they were absolutely chock full of gadgets, with Bond getting a cool gizmo or two that he would use at pivotal moments in every film.

In GoldenEye, the laser watch steals the show (and is great fun in the game), and an exploding pen is practically a character in the film’s climax. In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond gets a cell phone that is both a stun gun and a remote control for his car, among other things. In The World Is Not Enough there is a cane gun, explosive glasses, and hilariously, a suit for surviving avalanches that inflates into a spherical dome. And the less you know about the gadgets in Die Another Day, the better — if you haven’t seen the film, they’re some of the goofiest surprises in Bond history.

The Craig era of Bond has been a rather serious one — not without wit, but definitely more reflexive. Each film was made by people who felt the need to somehow comment on Bond’s very relevance, with severe plots to match their existential angst. With concerns like these, it’s hard to make a case for belt grappling hooks or bagpipe flamethrowers, the target of a joke in Skyfall when Q (Ben Whishaw, ironically an excellent choice for the franchise’s master of gizmos) says they’re not really in the exploding pen business these days.

But why not? While Bond films don’t really need gadgets to engage with the franchise’s recurring theme of an empire’s dying grasp at relevance in the guise of arguably the most patriarchal hero in pop culture, their frivolity does add something. Because Bond, in any serious, modern consideration, is a silly idea — a super-spy to whom access to anything (luxury, government secrets, sex) is never denied, with entitlement as his superpower.

Give that man absurd means of accomplishing that mission — exploding accessories, comic-book grappling hooks, silly vehicles — and that absurdity seeps into the character’s mystique. Because Bond is a fantasy, and the bare minimum concession necessary for the character to work in the next era is to acknowledge that in the text. Preferably with gadgets.

Also, they’re just fun as hell to watch.

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