No Codename: A Futile Attempt To Create A Unified 007 Narrative

This article was originally written for a 2020 issue of the Birth.Movies.Death magazine – a James Bond-centric issue which, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was never published.

Over the decades, moviegoers have learned to accept a few fundamental things about the James Bond “series.” The character is, at this point, an archetype shared from film to film, regardless of who plays him. A change in actors represents a different take on the character, much as it does in the constantly-rebooting Batman franchise. There’s little strict continuity, except between the occasional pair of films. The franchise is a collection of stories about and interpretations of the character. Nothing more.

That’s the reasonable way to look at these films. A slightly less-reasonable viewpoint is that James Bond is a code name – a moniker applied, just like the designation 007, to a series of distinct individuals. Thus, each actor has played, technically, a different character, going by Bond purely for anonymity reasons. It’s a popular theory, and at first glance, it bears out, with many pointing to George Lazenby’s “this never happened to the other fella” in-joke from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as key evidence.

But it’s not perfect. Several films have dropped roadblocks into the Code Name Theory’s path, reinforcing the notion that Bond is a single character who’s worn a number of different faces over the years. For Your Eyes Only has Roger Moore’s Bond mourning the dead wife of George Lazenby’s Bond several films later. More concretely, Daniel Craig’s run explores the character’s childhood, naming his parents as Andrew and Monique Delacroix Bond and introducing Blofeld as a childhood nemesis. The Code Name Theory is dead.

What if we put together a different theory – an even less-reasonable theory, rooted even less in reality, bordering on ludicrousness? Let’s take the fan-theory train to the final station.

So: our James Bond continuity begins in 2006 with Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig as the original, true James Bond. Bond gains his 00 status for the first time, under Judi Dench’s M (aka Olivia Mansfield). He goes up against Le Chiffre, falls in love with the doomed Vesper Lynd, takes revenge on the organisation Quantum (Quantum of Solace), returns to his childhood home (Skyfall), and first encounters Blofeld (Spectre). After leaving and returning to MI6 a confusing number of times, Bond eventually retires.

(Note: obviously, No Time To Die takes a giant shit on this article right about here, but when I wrote it, the movie was three months away from release, and was eventually released a further eighteen months later than THAT. For the sake of not having to fully rewrite the article, let’s pull a JJ Abrams and just say that he survived somehow.)

Decades later, Bond (now David Niven) is brought out of retirement for a mission eerily similar to his first (Casino Royale ‘67). This isn’t just central to this theory for the obvious reason, that the spoof film sees MI6 rename every agent “James Bond” in order to confuse its enemies. Rather, the climactic explosion of a pill-deployed atomic-bomb generates a time vortex that sucks Bond – and Blofeld – back through time to the early 1960s. Bernard Lee’s M is in charge, and Bond immediately revels in the comparatively backward gender politics of the era, like the misogynistic dinosaur that he is.

From there, Sean Connery’s run plays out in its entirety, from Dr. No through to Diamonds Are Forever, with Bond and Blofeld constantly nipping at each other’s heels. This keeps going until Bond retires again, and recurring effects of the time vortex force him to repeat the events of Thunderball in what we know as Never Say Never Again (a film whose title will become more ironic as this goes on).

By the time he retires, Bond has had a son (I mean, it was inevitable). James Bond Jr. (George Lazenby) follows in his father’s footsteps and joins MI6 (referring to his dad dismissively as “the other fella”), but makes the fatal mistake of falling in love. His new wife Tracy is killed on Blofeld’s order (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and James Jr. goes mad with desire for retribution. Undergoing plastic surgery to get the jump on Blofeld, he becomes the man we know as Roger Moore’s James Bond, and finally finally kills his nemesis (For Your Eyes Only, here preceding the other Moore films).

From there, the Roger Moore canon plays out more or less in release order. At this point, we’re going to say that Moore’s Bond and Pierce Brosnan’s Bond are the same character (Brosnan’s is the most similar to Moore’s, and it’s not like the movies ever acknowledged Moore’s advancing age). We’re jumping from A View To A Kill straight to the opening titles sequence of GoldenEye, which takes place in 1986 and has Bond witness the “death” of Alec Trevelyan 006 (Sean Bean). Bond is blamed for it and, stricken with guilt and shame, leaves MI6.

Facing a 007 vacancy, M hires one of the other James Bonds who was sent back in time in the Casino Royale explosion. A low-ranking officer even in his prime, he’s granted the job for precisely the reason MI6 changed his name in the first place: to create the illusion that James Bond is still kicking. This Bond (Timothy Dalton) does only a couple of missions before becoming hooked on cocaine confiscated from Licence To Kill antagonist Franz Sanchez. Upon M’s discovery of this habit, he too is forced to resign in disgrace.

Around about here, the parallel universe’s Blofeld is born. So, in fact, is Daniel Craig’s James Bond, but the prior existence of another James Bond (Jr.) keeps him lower down the chain in MI6. He changes his name and eventually quits, taking up a job designing cocktails.

By this point, the timeline has caught up the “original” enough that Judi Dench’s Mansfield assumes the title of M. Under protest, she brings back James Bond Jr. (Brosnan) to replace the disgraced interim Bond. Bond Jr.’s first mission back (GoldenEye) leads him to defeat an alive and evil 006, regaining some MI6 credibility. Thus, the Brosnan period plays out, and at some point after Die Another Day, Bond Jr. retires.

Now, we come once again to Casino Royale (1967), which plays out as before, only with James Bond Jr. in the David Niven role. The bomb explodes, the time vortex opens, and Bond (and Blofeld) are once again sent back in time. Now, the time loop is fully closed. James Bond Jr. plays out the Connery films and has a son, who then goes through the Moore and Brosnan films before being transported back in time and having a son of his own. Each one of the Bonds follows in this pattern, continuing into eternity. Only Daniel Craig’s Bond has a unique timeline. Only Daniel Craig’s Bond is the true Bond.

This theory is riddled with holes, of course. But fan theories are all full of inconsistencies and leaps in logic by their very nature. The “code-name” theory doesn’t make sense either, after all. Any number of fan theories about other franchises are worthless other than for idle speculation and YouTube clicks. They’re not canon – they’re just fun.

The only reasonable way to think about this series is as separate but vaguely connected films – that it isn’t a series, per se, but a collection of short stories about a mythical secret agent named James Bond. Try to make sense of it all, and you risk falling down a rabbit hole of stretched credulity from which you may never return.

Be sensible, 007. Stay away from fan theories.