Bond Basics

Courtesy MGM

You know what I like about this Skyfall poster? It juxtaposes the classic image of the camera lens/gun barrel of Bond’s films with the stoic, no-nonsense stride of Daniel Craig. It indicates to me that the filmmakers are taking extra steps to connect this 21st-century iteration of the British superspy with his roots. Since my favorite Bond is still Sean Connery, followed closely by Craig, I’m a big fan of the very notion. Between the two of them, they’re the closest the films have been to Ian Fleming’s original vision of James Bond.

Fleming’s Bond was, in the broad strokes, a very British version of the pulp hard-boiled detective popular in the 50s and 60s. Fueled by cigarettes and martinis, Bond was a professional assassin wrapped in a fine suit, maintaining his cover through flippant remarks and dalliances with women. Securely rooted in Fleming’s own real-world experiences with British intelligence and military operations, it had a sense of realism to it that underscored the action and raised the tension.

Sean Connery did a fantastic job balancing the stoic, professional interior and suave exterior required for Bond. Following Fleming’s death, however, the films began to change. With Roger Moore replacing Connery and the society of the time being all about glitz, glamour, and swinging, James Bond became all about the image, with cool gadgets and a parade of disposable women becoming his weapons against a rather colorful if somewhat shallow rogue’s gallery of cartoonish villains. While I’m never one to disparage camp, and think Moore’s Bond films are fine, it’s clear that they’re a departure from Fleming’s original intent for the character.

While Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan both made attempts to make the character a bit more grounded, elements of Moore’s years lingered. It wasn’t until Casino Royale in 2006 that James Bond returned to his basics, and in fact the very beginning. The film stayed very close to the thread of the novel, and Daniel Craig showed Bond as somewhat inexperienced, a little raw and unrefined; he isn’t wearing the suit until Vesper puts him in it, and even then he’s not comfortable with it at first. Even Roger Moore himself praised the new Bond. After re-establishing himself, though, Bond struggled to find his identity in the day and age of Jason Bourne, with this film and Quantum of Solace only standing out because of Craig and his character’s relationship with Dame Judi Dench as M.

While the last two films seemed to focus mostly on Bond being an international force for good, even if he is somewhat brutish in his ultimate methods, Skyfall looks to be bringing things home. Even the brief glimpse of the teaser released this week shows a Bond we may not have seen in years, if we’ve seen him before at all:

Other than the plethora of very British images, the fantastic word association bit lets us just a bit into Bond’s mind. When confronted with the word ‘Skyfall’, Bond does not betray emotion or flip the table; he simply, politely, and firmly ends the session and walks away. We see international locals with a very definite sense of identity (something Quantum of Solace was lacking) and Bond appears to be very calmly and confidently going about his business. I know it’s just a teaser, and it never does to get one’s hopes up, it seems clear to me that director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Jarhead, True Grit) are on to something.

This is the most excited I’ve been for a Bond film in quite some time. I look forward to seeing it in October.

1 Comment

  1. It often surprises people how much a prick Bond comes across as in the books. It took Fleming a long time to defrost the guy, and it isn’t until Goldfinger that he finally started letting the guy soften up enough to crack jokes. Goldfinger is probably the most familiar iteration of Bond to the movie goers.

    Saying that, Goldfinger (the film) is an astonishing cultural artefact. It depicts the an idealised man from 40 years ago – one who smokes none stop, sexually harasses women without trouble, and rapes a lesbian in what is clearly meant to be a quirky, funny scene. There is so much moral dissonance, I am surprised tvs still show it. I rate it along with Birth of a Nation or Songs of the South in terms of how it has aged, and how un-PC it has become.

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