The name is Martin, Aston Martin… and for more than 50 years the British automaker has developed a strong connection with the James Bond movie franchise. In the latest James Bond Film, Spectre, an exclusive model known as the DB10 stole the show with flame throwers and machine guns. By using gadgets to draw similarities to the original car, it’s easy to understand why others may think the car is cool. However, those who have seen the movie should also remember the car was never actually intended for agent 007 and the technology ultimately left the British spy in a bind. So if today’s car isn’t critical to the spy’s survival what exactly is it that makes this car so important? Finding the answer to this question will also help us understand current perceptions of spy characters and popular male stereotypes.
The Heritage of Aston Martin
Digging back to the start is the best way of understanding how the James Bond car has evolved over time. Interesting enough, the current generation of moviegoers may associate Aston Martin as the only spy car assigned by Q branch but it wasn’t until the third movie in 1964 that Aston Martin actually made its debut. (Understanding the Bond Market) The First model, known as the DB5, was primarily known for its ejector seats and was ready to throw out super villains at the press of a button. For its time, this type of technology was advanced. By adding gadgets and weapons to the car, movie makers were able to put spies on a pedestal, showcasing the coolest aspects of a spy gadget lifestyle.
Since the DB5 in1964, the look and styling of Aston Martin vehicles remained much the same however, forcing movie makers to rethink their casting roles and prioritize technology. For example, the V8 Vantage used in The Living Daylights had similar side vents, winged taillights and oblong grill, to the DB5 despite the 20-year difference. All of which are now iconic piece to the British car manufacturer. While this may be a good way for Automobile manufactures like Aston Martin to preserve the value of an individual car, it may also be one reason why the Bond franchise decided to make things more interesting by using a variety of cars in the long run. In total there have been 22 different cars used in a total of 26 movies. Even if this may seem a little extensive, using a more dynamic integration of gadgets kept audiences entertained all while fantasizing the powerful intelligence of technology.
When an Aston Martin car was used, however, it usually served a purpose. Despite using so many different cars, movie makers always returned to Aston Martin to fill the role of trusty steed when introducing a new actor in the main role. Whether it was the DBS for George Lazenby or the V8 Vantage Volante for Timothy Dalton, each was given the most up-to-date version of the Aston Martin sports car. (Aston Martin Heritage) Following this pattern seemed to add a sense of British identity, including a refined, dignified, lifestyle. In comparison many of the other cars were either American muscle or German engineered and primarily foreign to Mr. Bond’s native country. Using the quintessential British automobile therefore made sense, easily tying the franchise together. (License to Thrill: A cultural History of the James Bond Films)
The Original Perception of Men
Reflecting on the history of technology and style helps draw out perceptions of male stereotypes made by viewers in a respective time period. Because the James Bond franchise used repetition and variation each movie began to tell similar stories with familiar characters and situations. Audiences then began to expect a basic formula throughout the series and would willingly return to each new movie as the franchise had earned approval. Essentially the early versions of Aston Martin created a pattern that symbolized power and masculine dominance by outperforming the cars true capability. For example, the DB5 was an impressive car, none the less it was highly unlikely the car would have been able to outpace other performance cars such as the Ferrari F355 from the Goldeneye movie.(Double-0 Slow?) Furthermore, this phenomenon was never truly questioned and for the sake of making 007 look dominant and in control it was totally acceptable. Even society in general was setting a high standard for its male figures, demanding them to be stronger than they really were.
James Bond also had a strong reputation for being a lady’s and whether is was actually the Aston Martin or the Champaign cooler hiding under the arm rest, the car definitely supplemented the sex appeal of 007 and influenced the perception of male stereotypes. It may not have been likely for the everyday person to drive a sports car but this symbol translated into an obsession with wealth and materialism growing in popular culture. Over the course of the late 1900’s, the United States became gave way to economic growth that allowed for consumer based industries and the development of product placement in movies.
Additionally, being a movie hero required a sense of energy and youth. Taking down world class villains was no easy job and required strength and brilliance. Complete with good looks and spry one liners James Bond was a Playful character. So being able to implement the latest and greatest of technology thorough automobiles kept James Bond a young and energetic character. In turn, this implemented the same expectations on men who yearned for success in the real world. Society believed this was the prime of life.
A change in the perception of male stereotypes became evident when the Aston Martin Vanquish from Die Another Day pushed audiences to the limit. The obsession with technology was overdone as the car was not only equipped with the usual rockets and flames but also an invisibility cloak and resulted in a misrepresentation of society’s perspective on male stereotypes. The extensive use of gadgets turned 007 into a superhero of sorts, presenting an invincible side to the spy. Although this was continuation of the Basic James Bond formula viewers were looking for something much different. (In Defense of Die another Day)
This change in perception was noted when the Bond franchise was reinvented in 2006 and the Daniel Craig/DBS duo took the wheel. The popular perception was accommodated as the car was transformed to depict men in a more vulnerable and equal light. The goal was to highlight many of the character’s weaknesses and symbolize that men were more vulnerable than once thought to be. For viewers, James Bond wasn’t the ideal role model with whom they looked up to but he was still someone with whom audiences wanted to relate with and as the main character was forced to confront conflict on a more regular basis he also became more realistic. Audiences accepted that people are flawed and men do not and should not have control over every situation. (Becoming James Bond: Daniel Craig, rebirth and refashioning masculinity in Casino Royale)
Moviemakers were able to symbolize this change as the DBS from Casino Royal was equipped with only a few essentials, a big change from the technologically advanced sports cars of earlier films. By Including only, a hand gun and a defibrillator, James Bond was left with limited resources. However, this allowed the car to be incorporated into critical moments of the movie. As 007 faced the threat of cardiac arrest when being poisoned, the technology from the car that should have easily saved his life proved faulty and the unconnected wiring failed to keep him from passing out. Additionally, the car became a hazard as the spy swerved at high speeds to avoid killing the female counterpart who had been tied up and left in the road. This resulted in a record breaking crash but represented much more meeting the goal of highlighting vulnerability. No longer was the car a signifier of male dominance but rather of weakness. In the loss of power and dominance, male stereotypes transitioned into a role of a heavily flawed population but “Depicting this has brought a lot of humanity to the role, and that’s why the public has responded.” (Old Bond meets knew in Spectre)
Following along these lines, James Bond usually found himself being assisted by females in settings that involved the Aston Martin at its worst. Whether it was replacing the defibrillator wires in Casino Royal or phoning a friend for help in the later film Spectre, the sex appeal that accompanied the car in earlier years seemed to dissolve in the new age of Bond as the main character became more dependent and therefore equal with women. (Shake and Stirred: Feminism of James Bond) In relation to consumer insights of females, the new perception demanded a more charming personality out male stereotypes and less contentment with material things.
This was followed by the return of the DB5 in Skyfall. The gadgets that had once been so helpful in taking down enemies were now a threat, giving away Mr. Bond’s location. In an effort to leverage his own skills after everything had seaming gone wrong, James bond returned to a simpler approach and created a symbol of resourcefulness and maturity. Using the older car gave the main character a sense of aging. The young and energetic version of James Bond was ideal for a man with perfect timing and understanding of gadgets but without them 007 became more intelligent in the sense of knowing how to make the most of what he had and using prior knowledge.
Making these changes in the modern age of James Bond did come with some risk as well. As filmmakers dubbed down technology and returned to the older DB5 model it also meant 007 would eventually get his fair share of beatings from time to time. As the spy was no longer dependent on the technology he transitioned to be a person who could now bring down enemies using his own using natural skill and old-fashioned resources. In the real world this suggested a transition to a less formal method of acquiring skills and information and pointed to popular trends leading people to do more own their own seeking info from friends and family and working on DIY projects.
The Final Say
In the action/spy movie genre there have been many other films that have told stories in segments. To name a few think of Jason Bourne or the Dark Night Batman Series. This type of storytelling makes the new age of James Bond exciting and the DB 10 is an exclamation point on how the franchise has adopted changes in pop culture and perceptions of male stereotypes. The newest rendition of the Aston Martin summarized what the 007 car once was and emphasized how it has changed. By implementing some of the original technology from the DB5 such as flame throwers, the car seemed to say, “yes, this is indeed a bond car” and the legacy of the British spy continues. With this accompanied a hint at strong masculinity, a strong sex appeal and a push formal intelligence but was not cemented as the car was unarmed and short lived, crashing into the river. Instead viewers simply received a nostalgic experience and Considering the lengthy absence of technology that was probably good enough.
Had these gadgets worked on the DB10, it could be argued that the demands and interest of today’s viewers would closely resemble that of groups from the 1960’s who saw the debut of the Aston Martin in the Bond Legacy. Coming full circle would be an interesting phenomenon but even more interesting will be the future changes to the Bond car. As the popular as the franchise has been it is likely a new movie will eventually come out and the current standing leaves room for even further evolution.