TL;DR: I’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the long-running fan theory that Michael Bay’s The Rock is the last chapter of Sean Connery’s run as James Bond 007, and have come up with a full narrative that is completely consistent with the continuity of the six Connery Bond films, Connery’s backstory in The Rock, and actual world history.
If you’d rather watch a video than read a 3000 word essay on Reddit, then you can do that here: https://youtu.be/9FdnevXjqdc
The Rock was released on 7 June 1996 – exactly 25 years ago (greetings from New Zealand time). To mark this anniversary, I decided to go through the evidence – in WAY too much detail – that supports the fan theory that Sean Connery’s character in The Rock (John Mason) is James Bond. You have probably seen the odd article about it like this one, or this Reddit thread, or this entry on FanTheories.com, but trust me when I say that NO ONE has looked at this theory in this much detail and there is WAY more evidence than people think.
The Rock is the second feature film directed by Michael Bay. It’s about a decorated US war veteran Francis Hummel stealing a bunch of chemical weapons, taking hostages on Alcatraz, and holding the US Government to ransom until reparations are paid to the families of the soldiers who died under his command.
FBI Director Jim Womack and the Department of Defence enlist the services of convict and former British special forces operative John Mason to help the Navy Seals break into Alcatraz, using his knowledge of the prison from when he broke out of it in 1963. Mason teams up with chemical weapons expert Nicholas Cage to break into Alcatraz and disarm the missiles before Hummel’s deadline.
The fan theory
Almost since this movie came out, there has been speculation that Sean Connery’s John Mason is in fact James Bond. This is usually based on some surface level lines about the fact that Mason was “trained … by British Intelligence,” that he was “a former SAS operative,” and the fact that he was captured in 1962 – the same year the first Bond movie (Dr. No) was released. The fan theory usually says that Bond’s escape from Alcatraz happened before Dr. No, then we see him go on all his adventures in the six Bond films he was in.
But this narrative isn’t consistent with the Connery Bond films (his Eon run ended in 1971), and this is often used as evidence that the theory is a fun idea, but not supported by the continuity of The Rock or the Bond films.
Well I’m here to tell you that it 100% is. So let’s get stuck in.
Why is he called John Mason, not James Bond?
The most obvious hiccup in the fan theory is the name: Sean Connery’s character in The Rock is called John Mason, not James Bond. The most popular explanation is based on another fan theory that James Bond is in fact a code name for whoever takes on the role of 007, and that John Mason is in fact the real name of Connery’s James Bond.
Now, I strongly disagree with this argument. The Eon films have consistently established that these are different actors playing the same character, and that character’s real name is James Bond. Films in the tenures of Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan all refer to the death of his wife as depicted in George Lazenby’s OHMSS. Her name was Tracy Bond – she wouldn’t marry a codename. In the Daniel Craig films his parents’ surname is Bond, and he is called Bond before he becomes 007.
The codename is 007. The person’s real name is James Bond.
So why is Connery called John Mason in The Rock? Well, it’s simple. John Mason is the code name. James Bond frequently uses fake names, and usually has fake documents to support his cover identity. In Connery’s run alone we see this in From Russia With Love (where he takes the name David Somerset) and Diamonds Are Forever (where he becomes Peter Franks).
If we assume Bond was captured on a mission then it makes sense that he was processed under the name listed in his fake passport – in this case, John Mason.
What supports this idea even more is the fact that in The Rock, Womack says: “This man has no identity, not in the United States or Great Britain. He does not exist.” So after capturing Bond, they clearly ran the John Mason name through the system and got nothing – because it’s not a real name.
Why didn’t MI6 rescue him?
If we go with this the theory that Bond was captured by the Americans while on a mission, wouldn’t the CIA or MI6 see to it that he got released? Well, not necessarily. It’s a common trope of spy movies that if an undercover agent is captured their government will deny any involvement (we see this in the Mission Impossible movies, for example).
In the Bond films we consistently see how M puts Queen and country above the life of its agents – including Bond (remember the opening of Skyfall?). If M thought that it was in MI6’s best interests for Bond to stay captured, then I have no doubt that M would leave him to rot.
So to me, it’s entirely plausible that Bond was captured by the US while using the fake name of John Mason, put in Alcatraz, and MI6 decided to leave him there.
Do the timelines match up?
In The Rock, we learn that Mason was “incarcerated on Alcatraz in 1962… escaped in ’63.” So 1962 is where we start – the same year Dr. No came out. Now, as I said earlier, the fan theory usually goes that Bond was first captured before the events of Dr. No, which assumes that Dr. No is set in 1963 after he escaped. But that doesn’t work.
Dr. No is definitely set in 1962 or earlier, because in Jamaica he visits Government House – the seat of the British governor – which is flying the British flag (3.17 in this clip if you want to fact check me). Jamaica became independent on 6 August 1962. So there is no way Dr. No can take place in 1963, because at that point in time the British no longer had control of the country.
So, in my narrative, Bond is captured after the events of Dr. No**, and escapes Alcatraz** before the events of the next film, From Russia With Love**.**
If you haven’t seen it, Dr. No ends with Bond destroying Dr. No’s evil lair, after the villain tried to disrupt a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. He is rescued by CIA agent Felix Leiter, but, because Bond is Bond, he would rather get it on with Honey Rider than be rescued, so he disconnects the tow rope. It’s a typical Bond ending, but let’s be realistic. Leiter rocks up with a boat full of heavily armed Marines (01:18). They’re not all there to rescue Bond – they’re rounding up the henchmen who escaped from Dr. No’s evil lair and are throwing them in the 1960s equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.
Because Leiter knows Bond is a spy, he made sure to rescue him. But after Bond gives him the slip, he must have been picked up by some random Navy patrol and got lumped in with all the other prisoners. Without the CIA to vouch for him, Bond got locked up with the rest of the henchmen in Alcatraz under the fake name of John Mason.
But, Bond being Bond, he escaped. In Dr. No itself we see Bond escaping from a prison in Dr. No’s base – proving he was more than capable of busting out of Alcatraz.
This theory is supported by the fact that, in the next Bond movie, Silvia Trench complains that Bond disappeared for “six months” after going to Jamaica. So he must have escaped in January 1963 – meaning his imprisonment in Alcatraz happened around July 1962 – consistent with the timeline in The Rock.
I warned you I had looked at this in WAY too much detail.
So this timeline perfectly matches – to the exact day – the first two Bond films, The Rock, and actual world history.
Why was Bond/Mason captured in the first place?
In The Rock, Womack says:
“1962, J. Edgar Hoover is head of the FBl, some say the country. It's no secret he kept microfilm files on prominent Americans and Europeans: de Gaulle, British members of Parliament, even the prime minister. […] Mason was the British operative who stole the files. But our Bureau agents caught him at the Canadian border.”
Now, this is where The Rock’s own continuity gets a bit confused. Womack’s comment implies Mason stole the microfilm in 1962. But the movie mentions twice that it contains “the truth about the JFK assassination.”
So this microfilm can’t possibly have existed before November 1963, so this just further supports the fact that Mason/Bond’s first imprisonment in Alcatraz in 1962 was unrelated to the microfilm, and that he stole this sometime after his escape in 1963.
When was Bond/Mason recaptured?
The Rock establishes that Mason was recaptured sometime after he escaped in 1963, but it never makes it clear when this happened. The closest thing we have to a date on that, is Mason’s daughter Jade. When Womack is asked why the Hoover didn’t use Jade as leverage over Mason to reveal the location of the stolen microfilm, he says: “Hoover was dead in ‘72, she wasn’t been born yet.”
So this tells us that the daughter was born sometime after Hoover died in May 1972, and also strongly implies that Mason stole the microfilm after Hoover’s death.
Think about it – we are meant to believe that Mason stole a top secret government microfilm, escaped Alcatraz and, instead of returning to the safety of Britain, just lived undercover in the US for ten years or so, fathering illegitimate children, until he was recaptured again?
No, we’re not expected to believe that, because we know what John Mason was doing between 1963 and 1972. He was being James Bond.
If we return to the earlier narrative that Bond was first captured in 1962 by mistake after Dr. No, let’s assume that after he escaped, he returned to MI6 and carried on being Bond until his last on-screen adventure: Diamond Are Forever, which was released in 1971. Quick note here for fellow super-Bond geeks: I’m not including Never Say Never Again because it’s not an official Eon film and takes place in a different continuity.
Diamonds Are Forever ends with Bond in America. Not just anywhere in America – he’s on a cruise ship leaving a city on the west coast. Now, the ship he is on is the SS. Canberra, which docked in San Francisco in 1971.
So we can place Bond in San Francisco in 1971 – not long before John Mason was recaptured in 1972.
Why did Bond/Mason get sent to steal the microfilm?
I’m not going to get too deep into the history here – sources here and here – but in the early 1970s, there were some several fairly big foreign policy disagreements between the British government and the Nixon Administration.
So, with relations frosty and their best field agent already on American soil, its not totally unrealistic for MI6 to send him in undercover to try and find the secret microfilm that has all of the dirt on the British government.
So after his cruise, Bond goes undercover in the FBI. In this time, he befriends Womack. The Rock makes it abundantly clear these two men have a personal animosity, but never makes it clear why. Well, this is why – Womack was the person Bond used to get access to the FBI in the first place, only to betray him by stealing the microfilm. This is why Womack doesn’t trust Mason in The Rock – he’s already been betrayed by him.
While undercover in the FBI, Bond knocks up Jade’s mother after a one-night stand – which is a very James Bond thing to do. In The Rock, his daughter says that Mason met her mother “in a bar after a Led Zepplin concert.” Led Zepplin toured North America in June 1972 – so once again the real world history supports this narrative.
After learning that Jade’s mother is pregnant, Connery’s Bond began to reflect on his life and career – like we have seen subsequent Bonds do (in OHMSS, Goldeneye, Casino Royale, and Spectre). He decides to hang up the pistol and retire once and for all. But a few weeks earlier, J Edgar Hoover died on 2 May 1972, leaving a leadership vacuum in the FBI. MI6 saw the opportunity for Bond to exploit the vacuum and steal the microfilm.
M agrees to Bond retiring if he can pull of this one, final mission. Bond steals the microfilm file, stashes it in Kansas and flees to the border, only to be captured and locked up – this time, for good.
What happened after Bond/Mason was re-captured?
When he is captured and the FBI realise he was an undercover agent, Bond tells them his real name is John Mason to protect MI6. The FBI realise he is the same person who escaped Alcatraz in 1963. They lock him up, MI6 deny all knowledge of him, and Bond stays in prison until 1995: the year The Rock takes place.
The timelines of the Sean Connery Bond films and The Rock match perfectly with both each other and real world history.
But there’s ONE PROBLEM
The only evidence that Bond and Mason might be different people is when Mason talks to Hummel, and says he was an Army Captain, when we all know that James Bond is a Commander in the British Navy. Well, you could just say its Bond staying in character and leave it at that.
But that wasn’t good enough for me, and you’ve come this far, so get ready for the final part of the theory because this one will blow your socks off.
Francis Hummel, the villain in The Rock, is well-established as a decorated war veteran, with “three tours in Vietnam,” where he was a Major.
To be a major in the US Army, you need to have ten years of service. As Hummel did three tours in Vietnam, we can assume he was fighting there from fairly early on in the US deployment, which began around 1964. Furthermore, Hummel says that his career “dates back to the Tet ’68.”
During the Vietnam war, US soldiers had respite leave in Hong Kong, which was a British territory at the time. So let’s say Hummel was there in 1967, shortly before returning to the war in time to be there for the Tet Offensive in 1968.
As we saw in You Only Live Twice (1967), James Bond was in Hong Kong at the same time.
Now, its not plausible that Hummel and Bond encountered each other in Hong Kong, even if they were in the same city at the same time in 1967. But what is plausible is that Hummel picked up the newspaper one day and saw a front page story about British Naval Commander James Bond being murdered – complete with photograph – as shown in You Only Live Twice.
It’s a sad story for any soldier to read, particularly one who was shown to have a huge amount of respect for the fallen (it’s what motivates Hummel’s entire operation in The Rock). Maybe this story struck a chord with him, especially while he was experiencing his men dying during some of the fiercest fighting in the Vietnam War – a war he felt was unjustified. Maybe he saw the full honours bestowed to Bond by the Navy and wondered why it wasn’t given to all fallen soldiers? Perhaps he kept the newspaper clipping, and went to pay respects to Bond’s next-of-kin, only to find out that Bond’s death was faked – the first time he learns that perhaps governments can’t always be trusted.
Maybe Hummel reading about Bond’s death planted the seed in Hummel’s mind that his government couldn’t be trusted, and that the US didn’t care for the lives of its soldiers – a seed that would go on to grow over the next three decades.
Maybe this explains why Hummel greets Bond by asking: “Name and rank, sailor.”
Hummel is testing Bond, to see if this is the same naval officer he read about all those years ago. Look how Mason reacts to the question (0:11 in this clip). Bond knows that somehow Hummel suspects his true identity, but he doesn’t buy it. He sticks to his cover story, and the film continues.
Now, I admit this last bit is a bit unbelievable. But it’s not unbelievable by the standards of James Bond movies – or for that matter Michael Bay movies. In fact, by those standards I actually think the Hummel story is pretty tame.
So after 25 years, the case has been made and it’s finally settled. John Mason in The Rock is the same character as Sean Connery’s James Bond 007. Every detail covered – some way too thoroughly – and another leaf added to the tree of film knowledge. There are a few more details I covered in the video because they’re more visual and don’t work as well in a text post (like Bond’s capture in Die Another Day and some characterisation similarities between Mason and Bond). But rest assured that the theory is proven once and for all, and a solid narrative has been written that matches perfectly with the continuity of the Connery James Bond films, The Rock, and actual world history.
Celebrate the 25th anniversary of this great action classic by re-watching it with this theory in mind, and enjoy the true final Bond film by Sean Connery.
Edit: To address a recurring theme in the comments that I should have been more explicit about in the post, which is effectively "if Bond isn't a codename, what about Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, etc?" Personally I see each Bond actor's tenure as being a story in its own continuity, with Casino Royale being the only time Eon 'officially' rebooted it on screen. Roger Moore laying flowers on Tracy Bond's grave, for example, can be taken as a reference to Moore's Bond's off-screen backstory (as opposed to continuity from Lazenby), but it is also be an easter egg for fans of OHMSS. Actors playing M, Q, and Moneypenny can recur in other Bond actor tenures without it impacting continuity because they never reference events previous movies. They just happen to be the same actor playing a version of the same character (like, for example, Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again). So this theory just focuses on the timeline of the Connery Bond character in the Eon films.
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