“James Bond will return” is one of those lines that will never get old, and if a James Bond movie didn't put that line in the credits I would probably let out an audible, “huh?”
Just this past week, Skyfall brought James Bond back into my life in a bigger than expected way. Spoiler Alert: The movie was awesome. After 50 years, the British spy continues to come back constantly re-imagined but never too far from the model. In thinking about the Bond empire, I am hard-pressed to liken it to any other franchise. When a Bond movie surfaces people get excited — especially fans — but other than that it is run of the mill. The films use the spy as he has always been for the most part (a drinking, womanizing, gambling, straight shot), they sometimes use re-occurring characters, they are neither continuous nor chronological and they never reference any other films explicitly (Quantum of Solace being the exception).
James Bond has such a lore about him that fans get all uptight about him drinking a Heineken in a beachside bungalow after a night of sweet love making (there's nothing better), even though he has a martini that is clearly shaken at a casino in China. Also! (This is a tangent) He's had other drinks besides a martini plenty of times. He drank a Red Stripe in Dr. No. That was the first movie! Besides, after that movie, I'm about to drink a Heineken. Deal with it.
Through the years, the Bond movies have added more and more to the character to the point that it has become something of a game to see what the movies bring back. Skyfall is a movie that throws back to a Bond of a simpler time.
After the gadget-heavy Pierce Bronson movies and the gritty Casino Royale/ Quantum of Solace story, Skyfall places Bond as a man of instincts who needs nothing more than a pistol to get the job done. The film puts Bond in exotic locations and it has a decent amount of throw-backs to older movies that will have fans feeling rewarded for their invested hours (cracking the Aston Martin out of storage was a nice touch, even better with the GB sticker on the back). Skyfall also returns to form with the resurrection of a couple of absent characters from the previous two movies that also works to hit the reset button on the cast for the next movie, which will happen. Eventually.
The film does away with the Earth-destroying satellites and the death rays and the world domination; instead it replaces them with a modern world where nothing is secret anymore and MI6 has to fight for it's relevance. The film shows Bond as the last man in the shadows trying to get the job done anyway he can; car chase, hand-to-hand combat, assassination, Home Alone-ing it.
How do you fight an enemy without a face? It is a film that moves Bond into the 21st century without changing the man. Just because the times are changing, doesn't mean the old ways need to be forgotten.
Since Dr. No, the bar for villains in James Bond movies has been set very high. For 50 years, the Bond villain could do nothing short of something globally cataclysmic. Javier Bardem gives us an exception. Raoul Silva is a man who is a master hacker, but what he wants is simple. He needs to kill M. To have the plot of a Bond villain be so singular and so straight-forward is really refreshing and it seems to be setting the stage for future Bond films where the villains can have a bit more finesse and nuance in their schemes, rather than just a big explosion or something. Spoiler alert! This movie has tons of explosions. Bardem gives Silva a deeper personality than most villains, think more Heath Ledger's Joker and less Ernst Blofeld (you're in too many films!).
James Bond works because nothing is set in stone. He is always subject to change and the change is part of the relationship we have with Bond. While a movie franchise such as Star Wars has a hard time escaping it's own characters or not being true enough to form (this may change with Disney at the helm), James Bond has survived because of it's ambiguity and lack of form. People who are watching a Bond movie are willing to overlook the absence of Q or the switch between a man and a woman M because they know it is just how it is. James Bond's age is timeless and his status is timeless in a world that ages around him. Judi Dench gets older, but James Bond can just change actors. It's how it has to be and we accept that.
This is the glory of the franchise, it exists in a world all it's own.
If you compiled all 23 of Bond's missions, including the un-official Connery-comeback Never Say Never Again re-mission (remake) of Thunderball that happened at the same time as Roger Moore's Octopussy, we aren't even sure if this all happens over the course of one month of Bond's life, one year, a couple years. Goldeneye gives Bond years off in the movie after Alec Trevelyan “dies” but other than that time is pretty much ignored for the sake of the character.
Skyfall works in the way it ties this “up in the air” reality in with the gritty, realistic style Daniel Craig brings to the role. Bond is not the goofy Moore, the smooth Connery, the sarcastic Bronson, the singular Lazenby or the “Dalton,” he is uniquely Craig who is slowly working to bring all these Bonds down to earth. Skyfall takes the real-world Bond created in Casino Royale and it gives him a foundation to grow on.
Skyfall does not make James Bond a 21st century hero nor does it make him a relic of the past. James Bond remains simply the best and it promises to keep the legend alive. Skyfall was a fantastic addition to the James Bond collection and Daniel Craig continues to seal his fate as one of the best, if not the best, Bond of all time. In a true testament to his 50 years without fading away, I leave you with this excerpt from Skyfall:
Bond: Everyone needs a hobby...
Silva: So what's yours?
Heres to 50 more years of Bond.