BONDAGE: JAMES BLONDE?

by Jake on April 25, 2013

James Bond - Gun BarrelThe first James Bond novel Ian Fleming ever wrote was ‘Casino Royale’. The first of the “official” Bond movies was an adaptation of ‘Dr. No’. And the subsequent films adapted the novels in random order, destroying the continuity that Fleming established in the books while creating the 007 most are familiar with.

But in the 21st Century, it seemed like, finally, James Bond was old news. After all, it had been done to death, again and again. We’d seen Bond in clown makeup, Bond in space, Bond gone off the reservation, funny Bond, gory Bond, young Bond and old Bond. And of course, with so very many movies, it’s not surprising that some were, well, lousy.

The cliches and running gags are so well-known that it would be easy to sum up a typical Bond movie as follows:

We have a shot of a dapper James Bond seen in the scope of a gun. He turns and fires, causing the screen to run red. Then there’s a big action sequence which may or may not relate to the plot of the film as a whole, in which Bond does something impossibly heroic, usually after having shagged some dame. Then a credits sequence with gratuitous (but PG) nudity and a theme song, followed by Bond receiving his latest mission, going to trade quips with Q and get his new gadgets – which he uses precisely once. There are usually at least two girls he sleeps with, and as many as four. The two (the “Bond Girls”) are generally the one who is either a bad guy or is going to get killed (or both), and the one who ends up helping him. The villain is usually pretty weird: either physically odd or with an unusual fixation. Said villain generally has an even weirder henchman. After some banter and some travel to exotic locales, Bond gets captured by the bad guy(s) then escapes, destroying absolutely everything and then settling down for some sex. Credits roll.

That’s a pretty simple formula. Add in, “Bond, James Bond” and, “shaken, not stirred”, plus some clever(?) one-liners and you’ve got a Bond film.

Hey, it’s worked for 50 years.

And sooner or later, everything old is new again…

Daniel Craig - New James Bond movie Casino RoyaleOnce more, it was time to bring in a new James Bond. This time, it was Daniel Craig’s turn. This raised quite a few eyebrows, as many fans felt that Craig was not the man for the role, myself included. Also, when the news came that they were redrafting the franchise, presenting Bond at the start of his career, purists were dismayed, myself included. And the fact that Daniel Craig is blonde was considered highly inappropriate by a lot of folks, myself included.

We were wrong.

While I still wish Craig would dye his hair, the truth is that of the three films so far, two of them have been great and the other one was certainly okay.

‘Casino Royale’ had been adapted twice before: once in a lousy TV movie (which featured an American “Jimmy” Bond) and once as a comedy which parodied the Bond film series. But the new ‘Casino Royale’ was truly a fresh start.

While Judi Dench returned as M, the previous films were simply swept away. This would be the beginning of James Bond’s career, with none of the earlier films treated as having happened.

At first.

Craig plays a Bond Ian Fleming would instantly recognize (except for the hair). He drinks too much, he’s cold and ruthless. The first film adapted the novel very well, adjusting its themes to modern times. James Bond uses almost no gadgets, except a cellphone with a LOT of apps – spyware, perhaps?

So ‘Casino Royale’ silenced the naysayers, myself included. It firmly established Daniel Craig as the James Bond for the 21st Century, while discarding most of the cliches attached to the brand, or at least reworking them.

To be fair, Timothy Dalton played a very similar version of 007. In fact, like Brosnan, Craig has elements of all the other Bonds. But more than anything, he’s evoking Connery and Ian Fleming.

Now, the sequel, ‘Quantum of Solace’, was also something different: a direct follow-up to and continuation of the previous movie. It literally picks up where ‘Casino Royale’ ended, with the mysterious group “Quantum” taking the place of SPECTRE, the evil organization Connery often dealt with.

That said, the movie itself is just okay.

It’s not bad, by any means, but it’s a fairly standard plot, pretty much what one would expect from a Bond flick. Sure, still no reliance on gadgetry and Bond is still played as a driven, haunted man, but the rest is fairly true to formula.

SkyfallNow, it may have been because of the 50th anniversary of the series or it may be due to a desire to bring back some of the abandoned elements of previous incarnations, but ‘Skyfall’, the most recent in the Craig series, is like a pastiche of every James Bond movie ever made.

Seriously, it has Bond going rogue (like in OHMSS and ‘Licence to Kill’), a former Double-O as the villain (shades of ‘Goldeneye’ and, to a lesser extent, Miranda Frost in ‘Die Another Day’). It even has the classic Aston-Martin with machine guns and ejector seat! The British government levels the same accusations of obsolescence against MI-6 and the Double-O’s that were used on Brosnan, except this time, M is arguing on the opposite side of the debate.

A huge plot element is M sending Bond out when he isn’t ready, to earn his way back in or die trying, much like the book version of ‘Man With the Golden Gun’. There’s even a nod to the alligator/crocodile walking scene in ‘Live and Let Die’!

A new Q is introduced, doing what Q does so well. And by the end of the film, it’s like they deliberately brought the whole thing back to the Connery years.

It seems a bit strange to portray Bond as an old, tired warrior only three movies into the new cycle, but in fact, a Double-O in the Fleming books was expected to have a very brief career.

So now, in only three films, they’ve revamped Bond twice: reintroducing the character with a fresh start, then taking him around to his roots. And Craig has proved himself one of the great James Bonds, redefining the character and the franchise for today while still keeping everything that makes it all work.

It’s impossible to say what will come next or how long Craig will stay on, but after all these decades, James Bond is just as exciting and relevant as ever.

So straighten your tie, freshen up your vodka martini and raise a toast to 007 and the next 50 years…

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