The Real Problem With The James Bond Franchise
The James Bond film series has always varied in quality. We've seen the highs of Goldfinger and the lows of 007 battling evil while dressed as a melancholy clown. But back in the 2000s, things seemed to be looking up with Casino Royale. Daniel Craig's gritty origin story for a new Bond was a breath of fresh air after the Pierce Brosnan run devolved into stories about invisible cars and jokes about festively named women orgasming.
Although Craig is still playing Bond after 12 years, recent headlines are overwhelmingly dominated by how badly the public wants to see some other (super-duper handsome) guy take over the role. The only press surrounding the newest Craig Bond movie concerns the depressing news that acclaimed director Danny Boyle left the project, delaying the release until sometime between now and when the Sun explodes.
It's almost hard to remember how exciting this reboot was when it began. Casino Royale has a 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But the most recent entry in the Craig canon, Spectre, received a mere 63 percent -- a full five points lower than the paragon of mediocrity that is Hitch.
This isn't to say that that cartoon fruit have any true bearing on a movie's quality, but the fact that the critical assessment of the series has fallen from near-universal praise to on par with the movie wherein Will Smith helps Kevin James get laid seems pretty bad.
Casino Royale wasn't just a good movie; it was an attempt to restore some of the more classic elements of Bond while pushing the series in a new direction. It retained Judi Dench's M (a '90s rebuke of Bond's sexism) and recreated Ursula Andress' gratuitous beach scene from Dr. No with the gaze flipped on Bond himself.
So what the hell happened? Well, here's one problem with the recent James Bond movies: They never just gave us a damn James Bond movie.
Think about it. Casino Royale was supposed to be an origin story. Like Batman Begins, we were watching this character become the Bond we know. He learns about martinis and gambling, and acquires his license to kill. He also falls in love with Vesper Lynd, only to be betrayed and watch her die, spurring a lifestyle of treating women like absolute garbage for no reason.
And after the entire movie held back on the classic Bond theme, in an almost tantric musical relief, the familiar melody kicks in during the film's final moments, informing audiences that Craig has finally become the Bond we know.
So naturally, the next movie finds Bond going on a mission to ... no wait, he's still becoming Bond. Quantum Of Solace sees 007 continuing to wrestle with the emotional baggage of his girlfriend's death. In the end, he symbolically lets her go, discarding her necklace and walking away, presumably because there are no pawn shops open.
Then, right before the credits roll, we finally get the iconic gun barrel sequence that typically opens Bond adventures. The message is "OK, now he's Bond for realsies, you guys."
But then something odd happens. When Skyfall rolls around, Bond is suddenly an aging relic. After being accidentally shot by Moneypenny and going full Spring Break, Bond returns to England and, surprisingly, he's too old and out of shape to do his job.
M puts him back in the field even though she admits he didn't pass his physical. How did we go from an origin story to a movie in which James Bond is too old to be James Bond? It's as if the series skipped over the part where Craig got to play Bond in his prime. Furthering this, when Bond and M are on the run, they swing by a garage where his legendary Aston Martin has been collecting dust, thankfully not claimed by some kind of Storage Warrior.
We've never seen this car in the Craig films, so the implication is that this incarnation of the character did have a bunch of fun Bond-like adventures, but for some insane reason they all happened offscreen.
Even crazier, despite the fact that multiple people have declared that Bond is too old to be a secret agent, like its predecessors, Skyfall ends with an "OK, now he's James Bond, seriously, no takebacks" moment. Bond greets a new M in an office similar to the one from the older movies, complete with Moneypenny at reception.
The message of this symbolic return seems to undercut the more progressive aspects of the newer movies. M is back to being a dude in an old wooden office, and Moneypenny has abandoned field work for a secretarial position. It's as if the franchise hit the reset button back to the 1960s, possibly because Mad Men was still a thing in 2012. And yet again, the movie ends with the gun barrel schtick.
Then Spectre seemed to be a culmination of the Craig films, with the titular evil organization revealed to be behind all of the prior villainous schemes. But then even the goddamn fourth movie has the spectacularly prequel-y feature of Blofeld receiving his trademark scar.
The point is, we've never gotten a Daniel Craig Bond movie where Bond simply shows up and does his job. You know, like a James Bond movie. Which isn't to say that the formula can't evolve, but taken as a whole, this new series feels like one big build-up to something that never happened. Which, yes, is still better than random circus clowns.
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