The ‘James Bond Codename’ Theory: Does it Work?
Those who new to the internet (welcome!) you’re going to find many, many bizzare and interesting fan theories that can be applied to pop culture. Some of these are plausible and can be well supported by evidence, such as the Spongebob Nuclear Test Theory, whilst others only exist to mess with your mind, such as the Rugrats Dead Children Conspiracy.
One of the best and most popular is the theory that the name ‘James Bond’ isn’t the name of character but a codename given to whichever agent takes up the mantle of 007. This theory has gained plenty of supporters as it easily patches together the glaring continuity issues that develop over 50 years and 6 actors. But how well does it hold up? We investigate…
The Argument For the Theory
First up the obvious – James Bond goes through some pretty dramatic changes in appearance through his 23 cinematic adventures. He’s changed height, hair colour, age, build and basic facial features. Now it isn’t reasonable to suggest that they only replace the actor in a long running franchise with someone who matches them appearance wise – after all, physical appearance is only a small portion of a performance. But you should at least bring a similar performance to the table. Take Don Cheadle and Terrance Howard in the Iron Man movies. They are very different physically (except for…you know…having the same haircut) but they share a very similar interpretation on the character that makes it easy for the viewer to transition between the actors. Mostly because the acting suddenly got better.
That, however, is not the case in the Bond series. Daniel Craig is a hard nosed, hard edged and conflicted Bond who speaks his mind. Prior to him Pierce Brosnan was quite calm, maintaining his cool under all circumstances. Timothy Dalton was much darker, not balking at using violence and intimidation to get what he wants, and breaking the chain of command on a whim. Roger Moore played Bond with a wink and smirk, in it for the women and fun but always remaining to true to Queen and country. Sean Connery just straight up didn’t give a fuck.
When you watch the movies back-to-back you get some pretty jarring changes to the character, especially going Moore-Dalton and Brosnan-Craig. If you get into the mindset that each of them is not the one person but six different people taking on a particular role within the British Secret Service then these changes in personality are not only explained but expected. The similarities between then become a result of the training they went through.
This also irons out some of the more glaring continuity errors that have occurred. Connery Bond is an expert in Oriental languages from his studies at Oxford, as he explains to Moneypenny is You Only Live Twice. With Brosnan Bond finds himself in Wai Lin’s safe house in Tomorrow Never Dies he is unable to use the Chinese keyboard on her computer. When Craig Bond sets out in Casino Royale he’s only just been awarded his Double-Oh status although the Cold War is long over, only possible if he’s another person.
When you examine the final films for each Bond you also find the motivation for each one to have stepped down from duty. Connery Bond had just faked his death in order to throw Blofeld of his trail, only to wind up coming face to face with his arch-enemy and lets him escape. Given the extremes he’s already gone to in order to protect him from Blofeld he may have gone to ground. Lazenbury Bond spent only a small amount of time in the job before his new bride is murdered and he retired out of grief. Not wanting to let the trail go cold while they source a new agent MI6 bring Connery Bond back into the field to shut down Blofeld while they prepare Moore Bond to step up to the part.
There isn’t a specific reason for Moore Bond to have retired but he’d been a globe-trotting spy for quite some time. Dalton Bond became the new face of the agency but his short temper so him go rogue on his second mission, forcing the agency to retire him. The lighthearted Brosnan Bond was left in the cold by the government during a mission, and when he was left holding a sackful of diamonds at the end of the day he made himself scarce. With a sudden void in their line-up the government rapidly promotes the green Craig Bond to the big league.
If you subscribe to the theory then Bond battling Russians during the Cold War and high-tech terrorists in a post 9/11 world suddenly makes sense. M has been established as a codename that gets passed from person to person (during Goldeneye Bond makes mention of M’s predecessor) so there’s no reason why ‘James Bond’ can’t be treated the same.
The Argument Against
So you may be good and convinced that the ‘Codename’ theory cleans up all those pesky continuity issues that have plagued the series, but sadly it also raises a whole bunch of news ones. When Lazenbury takes on the part in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service the movie opens with Bond resigning and cleaning out his desk. He pays a particular amount of attention to props from the previous films, however if he was a different person those items would be meaningless and he’d have no reason to have them. Things become even trickier later in the same film when Blofeld recognizes Bond when they meet face to face.
Moore Bond is confronted quite bluntly about his marriage by Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me and he responds quite strongly about it. Later he’s seen visiting his wife’s grave in For Your Eyes Only and seen grieving for her. As this event occurred to Lazenbury Bond it would be unusual for Moore Bond to feel so strongly about her death. After the grave visit Moore Bond is attacked for the final time by Blofeld, who, again, would have no knowledge of him.
Finally, when Brosnan Bond appears in the prologue of Goldeneye along with 006 they are infiltrating the USSR during the Cold War, putting him on active duty at the same time as the previous Bonds, creating some serious overlap.
The theory is a fun one, but it creates just as many continuity problems for the series as pretending that all the Bonds are the same person. If you’re likely to get your nose out of joint about why the six Bonds are so different from each other then you can play along, otherwise you can just go with the simple fact that Bond already has a codename: 007.