Nerd Processor

James Bond Needs His Gadgets Back

Daniel Craig’s super spy may be totally badass, but he doesn’t do much actual spying

© Columbia Pictures

When the 25th James Bond movie arrives next February, it will be Daniel Craig’s last outing as the titular spy, and the end of an era — an era I’m not necessarily sad to see closed. Craig’s tenure transformed Bond from suave super-spy to a man’s man who relied on his fists and his physical durability to defeat the bad guys. But I miss James Bond actually spying on things. I miss him relying more on his cleverness than his ability to run through walls and parkour. And most of all, I miss his gadgets.

Super-spy gadgets were a hallmark of the Bond franchise for 40 years before they were almost completely dropped in 2006’s franchise reboot Casino Royale. It was quite an understandable decision: by Pierce Brosnan’s final outing in 2002’s Die Another Day, the Bond franchise had become ridiculous to the point of self-parody, and the gadgets (e.g. when Bond infiltrates North Korea on a surfboard containing a secret satellite dish and gun inside it, and drives an invisible car) had returned to the camp level of Roger Moore’s ’70s tenure (e.g. a Venetian gondola in Moonraker that turned into the world’s least practical hovercraft).

After fans complained that the series had gotten too goofy and unrealistic, owners Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli of Eon Productions used 2006’s Casino Royale to reboot Bond and bring him back to the character’s more serious roots. This meant no fun spy-tech, nothing disguised as anything else, and very little you and I couldn’t own ourselves with enough money. (If you look at the James Bond gadget Wiki, the lists for the Craig movies’ gadgets are dire; they include Sony Ericsson phones and Omega Seamaster wristwatches, as if some desperate Bond fan is trying to compensate for their dearth.) The Daniel Craig era has concentrated primarily on epic, visceral action scenes, which are loosely tied together by a grim storyline that puts spying at a distant second priority.

That’s not the worst thing in the world, by any measure — these are action movies first and foremost, so visceral fights and death-defying stunts are in their DNA more than anything. A James Bond movie where James Bond does nothing but pretend to be a wealthy gambler and put secret bugs on bad guys’ cars and hack computers would be anathema, and, just as important, a terrible Bond film. But without gadgets, Bond has lost some of their pizzazz — and part of what makes the franchise special.

Isn’t James Bond without gadgets just Jason Bourne with more memorable villains?

I mean, there are plenty of action films about spies, and when I say plenty, I mean several billion: The Bourne movies, the Mission: Impossible franchise, every iteration of the Jack Ryan series, Kingsman, Red Sparrow, Ronin, Atomic Blonde, Haywire, and countless others. They too, for the most part, eschew spy-tech, so it’s not like these recent Bond films are in bad company. But James Bond is the king of cinematic spies — he shouldn’t be another face in the crowd. One of the franchise’s most unique, distinguishing characteristics is the gadgetry.

If you’ve ever driven a car, chances are you’ve wished at least once you had a button that would drop an oil slick or release a smoke screen behind you.

That’s because spy tech is cool. It’s always been cool. I’m not sure of what neurological chemistry causes our dopamine levels or whatever to go up whenever we see something like a wristwatch that also shoots a laser beam (in Never Say Never Again and Goldeneye), but something happens, because gadgets became a hallmark of the character, and there have been many more replicas of James Bond’s various spy gear than James Bond action figures sold over the last half-century. It’s why Bond getting his tricked-out, hidden weapon-filled Aston Martin in Goldfinger remains one of the franchise’s most iconic scenes, if not the series’ most quintessential moment, period. If the James Bond franchise somehow died, this is the clip that the Academy would play at the Oscars’ “In Memoriam” video. If you’ve ever driven a car, chances are you’ve wished at least once you had a button that would drop an oil slick or release a smoke screen behind you for that jerk who won’t get off your bumper.

Sure, the gadgetry in the Bond movies has become ridiculous on more than one occasion. But contrary to the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras, they don’t have to be. The best Bond gadgets have been simple, plausible, and eminently useful. The toothpaste tube that actually contains plastic explosives in License to Kill is certainly a bit out there, but it certainly has a clear, specific use in Bond’s mission, instead of just existing as an obvious deus ex machina for a scene later in the film.

In this vein, my favorite Bond gadget is and always will be the briefcase from 1963’s From Russia With Love, given to him by Desmond Llewelyn’s Q in his debut appearance. It contained hidden ammunition, hidden gold sovereigns, a secret spring-loaded knife, a tear gas-canister disguised as talcum powder spray that could be armed by placing next to the case’s magnetized side and flipping switches disguised as part of the case’s hinges. That, and it was still roomy enough to carry an entirely non-hidden assemblable rifle! That could very reasonably have existed in 1963, and it would be just as useful for modern James Bond to carry around when his 25th movie arrives next year.

Unfortunately, if the past is any indication of the future, he won’t. Instead, Craig’s Bond will bludgeon and shoot his way through the bad guys, just as he has since Casino Royale. Don’t get me wrong, it will surely be spectacular to watch, even if the plot is a total mess (looking at you, Spectre). But when Craig finally lays down Bond’s Walther PPK, and the venerable series reboots itself once again, I hope 007 might get back to some, you know, actual espionage — after all, he used to be pretty good at it. And besides, it’s a little bit harder to keep your spy cover intact when you’re chasing bad guys with a bulldozer.

The former editor of io9.com, Rob Bricken has been a professional nerd since 2001. He also often cries at children's cartoons.

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