James Bond will return …
Sunday, March 29, 2015
Word of a new Bond movie is always welcome news.
The teaser trailer for Spectre premiered online this weekend, with Christoph Waltz in a role he was born to play: Bond villain.
Thus begins the cycle of getting excited about a new Bond movie all over again. 2013’s teaser for Skyfall was superb, with a line that distills the Bond franchise perfectly: “Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.”
The movie itself was a beautifully shot muddle, with Roger Deakins’ jaw-dropping cinematography – the fight in front of a giant video screen is a masterpiece. But it’s in service of a computer hacking plotline devised by someone who apparently learned how computers work by overhearing a drunk guy at a party.
As a film, it’s visually arresting but strangely inert. Sam Mendes, a theater director, stages his scenes formally like entries and exits under a proscenium arch. And, wait a minute – did this MI6 guy follow Bond from room to room as he trained to deliver one line of exposition in each?
Most troublingly, we were treated to yet another swishy gay villain stereotype that seems retrograde for 2013. Or at least should have been.
And while we are on the topic of gender politics, the movie – spoiler alert – kills off its female M – the great Judi Dench – and established that Moneypenny isn’t suited for field work so she can ride a desk. The boys are back in charge of MI6 now.
None of this is really enough to cause worry. If Casino Royale proves anything, a truly great modern Bond movie can still be made. It isn’t just the best Bond movie since the overrated Goldfinger, as some claim. It’s the best Bond movie, period.
The movies’ most enduring franchise doesn’t seem to get tired. Or, at least tired permanently.
Bond is a unique franchise. Star Wars and Star Trek have to deal with considerable sprawling backstory and fans with a Taliban-like intolerance for the slightest continuity error. The 2009 Star Trek reboot dealt with this by bulldozing 50 years of Star Trek legacy out of existence through a time-travel conceit.
Just deal with it, fanboys.
The Bond franchise deals with its decades of backstory by not really caring. Bond lives in the eternal present. Surely Pierce Brosnan’s ’90s Bond wasn’t the same guy who defeated Auric Goldfinger, but who really knows?
Relics of past movies showed up in Q’s laboratory in Die Another Day, but forget about any explanation of how they fit into Brosnan-era Bond’s past.
Casino Royale tried to deal with this by sending Bond on his first mission, but it put him back in his iconic 1964 Aston Martin spy car, which also returns in Skyfall, complete with its ejector seat button on the gear lever.
All this fits nicely with the fan theory that “James Bond” is just a code name, but that’s just fan guesswork.
Regardless of how the Bond movie universe works out its legacy, the end result is that every era gets a Bond it deserves.
You have sleek ’60s Bond as a icon of cool wearing Don Draper suits and driving one of the most beautiful cars ever made. We get ’70s Bond in wide lapels and a raised eyebrow as he slides through camptastic crap like Moonraker or, heaven forbid, wears a clown costume in Octopussy.
Let’s just be honest. For a beloved character, much legacy Bond hasn’t aged well at all. The corkscrew car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun is one of the great car stunts in all of movies. But Bond is driving … good lord, that’s an AMC Hornet! And the chase includes a terbacky-chewing cracker sheriff, Bond doing a Southern accent and a slide-whistle sound effect.
It’s painful to watch. So please, let’s.
Other aspects have aged even worse. The entire plot of Live and Let Die comes across as irredeemably racist. Some Bond seduction scenes seem borderline rapey now.
Thanks to some amazing 1960’s era modernist set design and avoidance of excess, Connery’s Bond fares best in avoiding some of the more embarrassing aspects, despite an occasional poor choice by the wardrobe department or silly attempts to murder Bond on a back-stretching machine in Thunderball.
He even acquits himself in unofficial Bond movie Never Say Never Again, which avoids most of the camp and outright silliness that weighed down Bond in the ’80s.
But none of this matters, not really, because the Bond franchise keeps moving forward. That Bond drove an amphibious gondola through the streets of Venice as a pigeon – sigh – did a double take didn’t stop the producers from returning there for the third act showdown and tragedy of Casino Royale.
As long as EON productions doesn’t worry about Bond’s past, they probably won’t have to worry about his future.