Jack Bauer vs James Bond: A Study in Opposites
But now that the blockbuster series is about to return for its highly-anticipated sixth season with a four-hour preview Sunday and Monday, the spy has turned.
Revamped courtesy of blonde, blue-eyed hunk Daniel Craig in the megahit Casino Royal, the “rebooted” 21st century Bond is Bauer’s kind of agent – ruthlessly direct, independent and willing to do most anything to save the day.
Check out my handy list comparing the three coolest secret agents to ever save the world. SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to use examples from the first four episodes of the new season to talk about Jack Bauer, so don’t read his section if you want to preserve the surprises. (I have a longer, better written version of this comparison running in Sunday's newspaper)
Villains – Garden variety terrorists and government henchmen. As this season opens, Jack has been traded the the U.S. from a near-two-year imprisonment by the Chinese government to help his Counter Terrorist Unit stop an Islamic terrorist who has tortured America with a rash of suicide bombings (how Bauer can help is a spoiler I won’t drop). Part of 24’s visceral appeal is villains who seem cut from the day’s headlines – at least, at first.
Gadgets – Nothing more exotic than cellphones, laptops and satellites. In particular, this series couldn’t exist without the cellphone -- key forl inking distant characters -- and Bauer grabs one in at the start of the new season’s second episode; using mapping software to figure out how to find a suspected terrorist before he can be eliminated by an airstrike.
Romance – Jack is like a black widow spider – devoted to his small circle of lovers, but usually detrimental to their health. Wife Teri was killed at the end of season one by ex-mistress Nina Myers, who Bauer wound up killing himself in season three. Another girlfriend, analyst Audrey Raines, was taken hostage and nearly killed last season; no wonder he doesn’t have anyone special around for the first four episodes this season.
Style – Blunt and unsophisticated, Bauer is the ultimate misunderstood company man/workaholic. He’s killed his boss in season three, cut off the arm of his partner (also his daughter’s boyfriend) and let his lover’s estranged husband die. Usually covered in bruises and blood, this season he’s also bearing scars (along with ZZ Top-length facial hair) from months of torture in China.
Villains – Exotic crime geniuses bent on world domination. From the German-Chinese atomic energy expert Dr. Julius No to the millionaire treasurer for Soviet counter-intellegence, Auric Goldfinger, classic Bond villains are always wealthy, extremely powerful, high-living and given to convoluted, easily-disrupted plans.
Gadgets – Complex and often ahead of their time. Classic Bond had a pager, jet backpack and TV wristwatch before anyone. My fave: the remote control car he uses to escape a hit squad in Tomorrow Never Dies.
Romance – Endless flings with women distinguished mostly by their odd and often salacious names, including Octopussy, Holly Goodhead, Honey Ryder, Xenia Onatopp, Kissy Suzuki and Plenty O’Toole. No wonder he didn’t stick around long; who wants to introduce somebody like that at the MI-6 office party?
Style – Sophisticated and worldly, Classic Bond prides himself on his polished mastery of the high life. His drinks are specifically made (shaken, not stirred), his clothes are expensive and well-tailored (hardly ever mussed in a fight) and his talents range from baccarat to fencing, skiing and even canasta. And he's arrogant enough to even make a competitive game of bridge (!?) with Goldfinger look dangerously cool.
Villains – Back to the more plausible variety, with Le Chiffre – a money manager for terrorists who tries winning back a lost fortune playing a high stakes Texas Hold ‘em poker tournament. Forget about world domination, this guy’s just trying to pay off his creditors.
Gadgets – Cellphones, laptops and a sportscar with a neat, hidden compartment. The highest technology here is a tracking chip embedded in Bond’s arm.
Romance – This is only the second time Bond devotes himself to a single woman on film, falling for independent British treasury agent Vesper Lynd hard enough to quit Her Majesty’s Secret Service to build a life with her. But considering the limited life span of both Bond and Bauer’s greatest loves, maybe the ladies are better off if they stay on the market awhile.
Style – Craig’s Bond lives up to creator Ian Fleming’s original description as a “blunt instrument of government policy,” notching his first kill by beating a man to death in a bathroom. His reply to a question on whether his martini should be shaken or stirred: “Do I look like I give a damn?”