JAMES BOND SYNDROME (On The Ridiculous Over-Powering Of The Average Hero)


Do you know how loud a gunshot is? If you fire a gun in an enclosed space, like a car or a small room, you’re going to be deafened briefly, perhaps even permanently. Sustained gunfire is the loudest sound you’re ever likely to hear unless you stick your head in a jet engine or under the hood of a roaring muscle-car. It’ll also be the last thing you’ll ever hear.

Have you ever been punched in the face? It hurts, a lot. It’s shocking and sudden, especially depending on the type of punch. A jab is different than a cross or an upper-cut. But the bones in the human face are extraordinarily strong and can absorb a remarkable amount of punishment. You can live after being punched in the face, although it’s not a good idea to make a career of it. Funny thing, though – the bones on the back of your skull aren’t nearly quite as resilient. A blow that you’d shrug off in the face could easily kill you if it landed on the back of your head.

Plus, your brain jiggles around inside your skull when you get hit in the head, front, back or side. Sustain enough concussions and you’re going to have some serious problems, even if you’re wearing a helmet. Ask any athlete.

You can’t just jump out of the way of an explosion. Explosions don’t work like that. The blast wave IS going to liquefy your internal organs and you won’t be able to get up and run or fight the bad guy. It’s just not possible.

I’m not pointing these things out to be some kind of pedantic kill-joy. I know you love your action movies and spy thrillers and superhero films. I’m merely establishing that Real Life is nothing like the movies. There’s a term called the ‘Rule Of Cool’ in media – nobody wants to see the real implications of jumping off a moving train or para-gliding through a mountain range. The ‘Rule Of Cool’ basically states that everybody loves a bad-ass. If you’re so cool you can stroll slowly away from a massive fireball without even noticing it, (a scene so cliché, they use it in commercials now) then people will love you and buy your product and subscribe to your newsletter.

At least Batman wears some sort of body armour and lives in an obviously cartoon world, full of puzzle-crooks and murder-clowns and rocket-cars. But James Bond’s world is equally cartoonish and he usually just wears a tuxedo.

The obverse of the ‘Rule Of Cool’ is the concept of the Suspension of Disbelief. That’s the point at which the audience collectively groans “OH, COME ON! That’s not possible!” It’s the point of no return, the moment that kills the franchise, that strangles the goose that laid the Golden Egg. It’s happened to both Batman and James Bond more than once.

It’s Roger Moore base-jumping from the Eiffel Tower with a giant Union Jack parachute. It’s Bat-Shark-Repellent, that he just happened to have handy, in case he ran into a shark. It’s a villain with metal teeth that can bite through steel cables. It’s Jack Nicholson shooting down a jet plane with an over-sized pistol or George Clooney surfing through the air on a piece of random debris. Or Heath Ledger surviving  a flipped-over tractor trailer, that only minutes before, he was firing a rocket-launcher from. Or Daniel Craig parkouring on top of a locomotive.

It takes the audience out of the story. It turns the ‘Rule Of Cool’ into Barnum’s Dictum – There’s a sucker born every minute.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sitting in a darkened movie theatre and enjoying the over-the-top antics of Batman or James Bond or Captain America or whomever. But don’t confuse “gritty” with “realistic”. When James Bond gets in a fist-fight, he comes away with nary a scratch. In Real Life, he’d have debilitating head-aches, an aversion to light, a shortened life-span. If Batman fell from a sky-scraper onto a parked car, in Real Life, he’d lie there groaning and bleeding until help arrived.

The funny thing is? People who have survived traumatic events almost always describe it, whatever it was as being “like a movie”.

I dunno. Maybe that’s not funny.


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