With Kingsman : The Golden Circle coming out this weekend, James Bond inspired films and television have been on my mind, particularly those that satirize the infamous 007. There is no denying that this secret agent evokes a certain image. He’s the sleek international super spy who always gets his man and a lady or two. Bond has the finest cars, the latest gadgets, and an awesome wardrobe of suits and tuxedos for whenever the need arises. It’s fun to see how this serious persona can be lampooned, both in straight up farces but also in more subtle forms. With that in mind, I have complied my list of favorite comedic properties that have been heavily influenced by the James Bond movies.
5. Get Smart (1965-1970)
Our first entry is also our oldest. Get Smart was a tv series created by the satire master himself, Mel Brooks. It lasted for five seasons and was a staple on Nick at Night in the 1990s when I first fell in love with it. I probably didn’t even know who James Bond was when I first saw this show, but 007’s influence is all over it. For a start, the big spy agency CONTROL versus their arch nemesis KAOS harkens back to MI6 versus SPECTRE of the Bond movies.
Our super spy is portrayed by Don Adams, whose comedic genius shines as the ironically named Maxwell Smart (Agent 86). On the surface, he has the Bond looks, but that’s where the similarities end. Smart is barely competent enough to do his job and frequently bumbles his way through assignments. He’s often seen getting tangled up in phone cords and getting caught by agents of KAOS. He does have some cool gadgets to help him fumble through these tasks, most notably his shoe phone, which must have seemed state of the art for the time.
Joining Smart on his missions is his partner, and later wife, Agent 99. However, she definitely doesn’t fill a traditional Bond girl role. Agent 99 was always the more competent one who had actual plans to help them get out of sticky situations. Rounding out the cast is their boss simply known as The Chief, who often seems to be beleaguered by Smart’s shenanigans. But at the end of the day, Agent 86 always got his man.
Get Smart was a fun show that didn’t take itself too seriously. Considering the time period it aired, it was actually pretty progressive in some areas. Several sequels and remakes have tried to find footing with new audiences, but they’ve all failed to capture the magic that Don Adams originally brought to the role.
4. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
Austin Powers is a cartoon version of the 1960s Bond. Every stereotype that exists about Bond is lampooned in this movie. Loved 007s sexy Aston Martin? Austin Powers sees this and raises you his Union Flag bespectacled “Shaguar.” Like terrible Bond Girl sex-pun names? This movie servers up Alotta Fagina. Want some wacky spy gadgets? Well, the best ones aren’t actual gadgets, just a reminder that Powers could use some help when it comes to dental hygiene. He’s a perfect example of all the traits people loved about the old Bond, but packaged in the worst possible box. Whereas our classic Bonds were suave, Powers looks as though he doused his chest in crazy glue and rolled around a barber shop floor.
All that being said, it’s hilarious to see this spy out of his time struggle to live in the late 1990s. He stands out in his crushed velvet and cravat, hitting on everything that has a symmetrical face and pulse. It just so happens that his new partner, Ms. Kensington, the daughter of his former partner, takes the brunt of this overt flittering that borders on harassment. Whereas her mom thought Powers was harmless, Vanessa isn’t sure what to think of his outdated manners. She’s portrayed as an uptight individual who Powers tries to charm into having more fun. As for the big baddie of the piece, Dr. Evil makes for a serviceable villain, who is embarrassingly unaware of how times have changed. His plot for world domination is ridiculous and his own son keeps pointing out the fatal flaws in his devious scheme, flaws that Bond villains make in every movie.
Overall, the first film in the Austin Powers franchise is a fun take on the character and genre tropes. The jokes are bit heavy handed and the satire isn’t as strong as it could be, but it’s still enjoyable, even if it’s just seeing how dated the film is now.
3. Johnny English (2003)
Here we have another bumbling spy in Johnny English, hilariously portrayed by iconic British comedian Rowan Atkinson. English is the perfect embodiment of what would happen if Mr. Bean somehow made it to the top ranks of a clandestine organization. Unlike Adam’s Maxwell Smart, whose shenanigans never actually harm anyone on his side for too long, English’s incompetence is directly responsible for the deaths of all the agents at MI7. Now the Crown’s only hope lies with this man who can barely dress himself, let alone save the world. He frequently misses obvious clues and evidence, even when they’re glaringly right in front of him.
While Johnny English is not a critical darling by any means, it’s a fun spoof of the Bond tropes. English has his own Aston Martin, which is involved in a pretty hilarious chase scene after English and his partner discover it’s being towed for a parking violation. He also has his fair share of gadgets, including a poison dart pen which he accidentally sets off into his boss’s secretary. John Malkovich is delightful as Pascal Sauvage, whose villainous plan is to ascend the to the British throne and bring the Crown under French rule once again in order to use the UK as a giant prison. However, best, and perhaps most surprising of all is that this movie has a legitimate Bond theme spoof, A Man for All Seasons. Hans Zimmerman wrote the music while Robbie Williams wrote the lyrics and performed the song. I prefer it to many of the actual Bond themes, especially some of the Bronson era tracks (I’m looking at you Die Another Day!).
Johnny English has the distinction of actually being written by Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who penned the screenplays for The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace. Overall this is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The dramatic irony created by English’s incompetence is hilarious and this is an enjoyable send up of the Bond tropes without drawing attention to them with fourth wall breaks.
2. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
Of course, we couldn’t leave out this gem, considering its sequel is the reason for the article. Matthew Vaughn’s movie is part satire of Bond, but also a serious examination of the tropes. One way they get away with this level of scrutiny, and the element I love the most about this movie, is the fact that Eggsy isn’t a trained super spy at the start. We get to see his journey through to becoming a worthy Kingsman and even if he’s a bit rough around the edges at first, by the end he proves himself worthy of code name Galahad. This is a complete departure from most of the Bond inspired movies, but I think it works well. Eggsy also seems to have a bit more humanity in him than Bond. We see how he cares about his loved ones, his mother, and baby sister in particular.
The gadgets in this movie are top of the line compared to the others we’ve featured so far: we have umbrellas that double as shields, glasses that serve as subtle computers with two-way communication systems, and lighters that are deadly if flipped open. The Kingsman have truly thought of everything an agent would need to protect the world from evil.
The villain at odds with The Kingsman is Richmond Valentine. Samuel L. Jackson is absolutely delightful as this over-the-top entrepreneur, and his plan for world domination fits right in with some of the best Bond villains. He just wants to make the world better by eliminating about a third of the population. This charismatic man doesn’t need a Bubonic Plague to do that, just the trust of humanity and their cellphones. The movie’s numerous fourth wall breaking lines come from him. Valentine is a big fan of waxing philosophical on the nature of good versus evil when it comes to movies. At one point Eggsy even tells him, “This ain’t that kind of movie, bruv.”
I’d say that Kingsman is a better Bond film that most of recent attempts to riff on the franchise (hell, it’s even better than many of the Bond franchise entries themselves.) It captures the spirit while lampooning it perfectly, but without coming across as so satirical that it will be dated within a year’s time.
1. Archer (2009-Present)
At the top of the list is Archer, an animated tv series that debuted in 2009 on the FX network. This series, especially the first four seasons, beautifully captures both old and new Bond perfectly while still being its own thing. When we see the offices of the International Secret Intelligence Service, it looks straight out of the 70s in its décor, and its computers look like relics from the 80s. Our Bond equivalent and eponymous hero of the show, Sterling Archer is a hilarious balance of cool competence and arrogant incompetence. He excels at spy craft, but often makes little mistakes because he’s lazy or just doesn’t care. He’s more of a lush than Agent 007, and his drunken shenanigans have landed him in hot water, possibly containing hungry sharks, more than once. He’s also depicted as quite the womanizer, always flirting with both his partner, the highly capable Lana Kane, along with every other woman he encounters in the series. He touts himself to be the world’s greatest secret agent and drives a Dodge Challenger at the start of the series, quite a step down from Bond’s preferred luxury vehicle.
There are many more Bond parallels in the main cast as well and because it’s a tv series, they get quite a bit of character development. The agency’s equivalent of M is Mallory Archer, Sterling’s mother, who was an amazing spy in her younger life. She’s often quite frustrated with her son as he ruins well laid plans, creating problems in every clandestine operation. She even burns him in one episode, albeit by accident. Another notable character is our parallel to Q, Dr. Krieger, who is the quintessential mad scientist. He often has secret experiments in his lab that even Mallory is clueless about. He cares more about his insane projects than actually helping anyone at the agency.
You’ll find many Bond film plots and tropes played out in this dark comedy. It lands in the top spot because it’s just so enjoyable, even after the series goes off the rails a bit into more experimental territory.