The Irritations of Modern Life: 70. James Bond

NOT MANY movies are acclaimed for being unoriginal. James Bond films are. "Look," squeal the fans, "this one is really hackneyed! It's got car chases, Martinis, catch phrases, ski jumps, baddies who can't shoot straight - there's nothing new here at all! Pierce Brosnan is almost but not quite as good as Sean Connery! The theme song is almost but not quite as good as the ones John Barry wrote! It's all familiar! Isn't that fantastic?"

A Bond film is a thriller in which you know exactly what to expect. No part of the blueprint can be altered - except perhaps the very essence of the lead character. The 007 of The World Is Not Enough is a man who doesn't smoke, who respects women and who, as Brosnan keeps reminding us in interviews, has to wrestle with his personal demons. (Come on. Bond wrestles bikini-clad double agents and Aryan assassins.)

But the reason that every other element of the movies is so predictable is that they are banking on their nostalgic appeal. You're supposed to remember how fun they used to be - or rather, how fun they seemed.

The problem is that it's impossible to name a Bond film which gripped you all the way through. Yes, they all do the job when you have a glass of mulled wine in your hand, but what sticks in your mind afterwards? When pushed, you can choose the nastiest villain or the most quotable one-liner, but try to pick an entire Bond film that isn't dragged down by flabby plotting or am-dram fight scenes or wooden acting or laughable special effects or agonisingly blatant product placements. Not so easy, is it?

No; Bond films are best enjoyed in fragments. They're perfect fodder for pub conversations, quiz questions and lists in magazines of the coolest gadgets and the sauciest girls. There is no Bond film which is as exciting as a compilation of clips from the whole series. Mind you, that's pretty much what a Bond film is, anyway.