Saturday, November 10, 2012

And I'm Sky, I'm Sky-Fallin'! (Bond, Part 1)

First, I stole the joke of the title from Brendan Hay's twitter, which I recommend if you want to steal things.

Second, talking about James Bond is like talking about Batman: it's impossible to really say what Bond is like since we've seen several different iterations of him. For instance, you might think of Bond as a suave womanizer who looks like Sean Connery--until you watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby as Bond. That iteration of Bond doesn't do so great at suave womanizing: his suavity is parodically reduced to re-using the same lines on different women; and his womanizing is replaced with marrying for love.

Third, I have seen a lot of Bond films and have opinions on them all. Or I would if I could remember them. Mostly they're a haze of villainous plots and snappy lines, like
Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.
A lot of these "snappy" lines revolve around the women in Bond's life and bed (often the same thing), from Goldfinger's rather restrained banter, where Pussy Galore introduces herself and Bond responds, "I must be dreaming"; to the cringe-, nay, barf-inducing zinger in The World is Not Enough, where Bond gets Denise Richards's nuclear scientist Christmas Jones into bed and tells her how surprised he is since he "thought Christmas only comes once a year."

So, I would restrainedly call myself a Bond fan; at the very least, I recognize the title "The World is Not Enough" as the motto on Bond's family's crest (as mentioned in the movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, though it's delivered by Bond to women, so maybe we shouldn't trust him too far here).

Fourth, even though I enjoyed the over-the-top Bond of earlier movies (men with metal teeth, space lasers, evil institutions with silly names likes SPECTRE), I thought Casino Royale was, for all its faults, a revelatory and exciting reinvention. Instead of suave womanizer with cool/silly gadgets, Bond was a brutal tool used and abused by institutional forces. Instead of gadgets and women, this Bond was placed as the central weapon and object of attention.

Again, like Batman, the Daniel Craig Bond in Casino Royale was an incredibly traumatized figure whose empty-hearted dedication to the job was empowering and re-traumatizing. (Try all you want, Batman--all those crimes that you prevent won't prevent the one crime that haunts you.) Put it this way: when Sean Connery's Bond wasn't working, he probably continued to do Bond stuff, like drinking, womanizing, and gambling--the job was an extension of his personality; when Daniel Craig's Bond was off the clock, I could picture him just sitting in a dark room, waiting to be called into action. The job isn't an extension of Bond's personality, it's a replacement of his personality.

Fifth, no matter how much I enjoyed Casino Royale, I recognize that you can't really make a franchise out of such a deeply cracked figure. Perhaps at most, you can make the Nolan Batman trilogy, where we see the making and then un-making of the traumatized superhero as he learns to live a human life. Casino Royale was very much 007 Begins, the making of Bond as super-spy with no particular soul. Now, that's a story you can't really expect to play over and over again: a character who achieves some apotheosis in one film will seem false to the audience if he starts over again. After you've hit empty, you need to find somewhere else to go. You can't keep doing "Bond kills remorselessly, finds love, loses his heart and becomes an institutional tool" arcs.

Sixth, people seem to love the new Bond film Skyfall. I did not. More on that tomorrow.

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