AS ITS release approaches, various critics are preparing to write off the new Bond film in the terms of your own correspondent: "Oh look, here's another Bond movie, with lots of action, some girls, some gadgets, and the sort of excruciating puns that would put even a second-rate Carry On film to shame." Bond movies are all the same, critics allege. We know exactly what the outcome will be, so why bother seeing it all over again?
But such criticisms of the formulaic nature of the Bond movies miss the point, which is that the films are successful precisely because audiences know what to expect. Indeed, it seems rather churlish to condemn the film- makers for continuing to provide a popular entertainment that has proved to be successful over nearly 40 years. We are dealing not just with a series of films, but with a cultural phenomenon of considerable significance.
To say that the Bond movies are unoriginal is simply untrue. The Bonds are genre films of a unique kind. They are a genre - or sub-genre - in their own right. They are historically important in that they represent, simultaneously, both the last, glorious, big-budget flowering of the old-fashioned British imperialist spy thriller, and the first of the hi- tech action movies that are now a staple genre in Hollywood.
One might argue that, in this age of political correctness, the Bond movies shouldn't be as popular as they are. They have been criticised as sexist, heterosexist, snobbish, even xenophobic. But the critics are out of tune with popular taste. Audiences still lap up the Bond films.
So bah! to the critics. Bond has become a cultural hero - an internationally and immediately recognisable iconic figure whose popularity has outlived the books in which he first appeared and has been transformed through the power of cinema. In an age when heroes have become unfashionable, or have to be saddled with all sorts of neuroses, James Bond is a modern St George who slays dragons and rescues fair damsels (albeit they are no longer always in distress). And what's more, he's British too.