December 5, 2021

IT’S NOT JUST HOLLYWOOD: “Hollywood doesn’t want us to be happy. Sad audiences are easier to manipulate.”

That’s Andy Kessler, talking about why the Bond franchise has become a downer:

I’ve proudly seen every James Bond movie ever made, even the George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan doozies, plus Woody Allen’s 1967 “Casino Royale” spoof. As a kid, I even inhaled Duco Cement fumes assembling a plastic model 1964 Aston Martin DB5—with a working ejector seat!

Bond films delivered a feeling of sophistication and fun. The original James Bond was suave and sassy while he resolved sinister plots. He exemplified cool: He drank vodka martinis but never to excess, was impeccably dressed and, though flirty, was a gentleman. The early films were filled with innuendo and scenes that were simultaneously exotic and a touch campy. Sean Connery’s Bond had a joie de vivre. Roger Moore’s was less serious and a little over the top, but the audience was in on the joke.

Scholars love to analyze Bond creator and author Ian Fleming’s work as an allegory: Bond is the new Churchill, saving the British Empire from its inevitable postwar decline. Bond’s motivation in Her Majesty’s Secret Service is always God and country, epitomized in the opening scene of “The Spy Who Loved Me” when he skis off a cliff and unfurls a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack.

But since Daniel Craig took over in 2006, things have turned strange, especially with his final Bond film, “No Time to Die,” which I recently watched. It was dark and gloomy like 2012’s “Skyfall.” Billie Eilish practically whispers the theme song, seemingly from a shrink’s couch. Bond was brooding, with a constant scowl on his face. What was he so depressed about, Brexit? No wonder Mr. Craig reportedly couldn’t wait to finish his run as 007.

What the heck is going on? After paying for $15 movie tickets plus overpriced and overbuttered popcorn, I expect to escape the drudgery of real life for a couple of hours. I want to come out of a dark theater with a huge smile on my face, not feeling as if I got hit by a sad sack of potatoes.

Why does Hollywood sulk so much these days? Is it simply reflecting society? This moody movement certainly ruined “Star Wars” and Batman—“Dark Knight” indeed—and even enjoyable Marvel characters like Iron Man’s Tony Stark, who started out snarky and ended up despondent. Gloomy dreck like “Parasite” and “Nomadland” now win the Oscar for Best Picture. Anything good, like Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in “The Joker,” gets shouted down as insensitive.

The movies are depressing because Hollywood is depressed. Hollywood is depressed because it’s not very good at its job anymore, and no matter how many awards they give to each other, they know it.

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