James Bond films are an institution, from the theme songs, to the villains, to the gadgets- they’re memorable additions to anyone and everyone’s film collections. But in Daniel Craig’s outings as Bond the franchise has suffered an identity crisis. Before Daniel Craig Bond films followed a formula: unique (and sometimes absurd) villains, plus gadgets, one liners and impending crisis (all shaken, not stirred of course,) made great Bond. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace saw a hard-nosed, high-octane 007 with a new focus on gritty realism, more reminiscent of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne than Sean Connery’s, or even Pierce Brosnan’s Bond. In the wake of this dramatic change of direction, Bond fans were left split but Skyfall managed to re-unite fans that wanted realistic action and plots with Bond fans who wanted the super-human Bond of old. How Sam Mendes chooses to follow Skyfall’s reconciliation in Spectre will define the path of the franchise for many editions to come.
For fans of older Bond films the homage paid in Skyfall was a welcome return to form. Bond appearing in the traditional gun barrel sequence at the end of the film was the icing on top of the cake for some traditionalists. One sequence saw Craig made a Roger Moore-esque quip as he jumped on-board a moving tube train and later, even less subtly un-veiled the Aston Martin DB5 he would drive with an accompanying sting of the original theme tune.
But Skyfall also crucially grasped what it was that fans of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace wanted, Q’s mocking comment: “what were you expecting? An exploding pen?” flaunted modernity in the face of the Bond formula but with wit that even die-hard Bond traditionalists couldn’t help but love. The films action sequences also catered for both parties, gritty in parts (Bond’s fight on top of the train in the opening sequence) and quirky and silly in others (a little help from some Komodo Dragons).
So Bond’s 24th outing not only has to keep a fine balance between traditional Bond and modern cinema, it also challenges Sam Mendes to show us Bond not in a period of transition as the franchise seemed in Skyfall. M’s closing comment to the effect of “let’s get back to the grindstone of international espionage” rang true in respect to the kind of film Mendes will have to make.
Let’s face it, Homer Simpson and Superman both make the list of “people more likely to die than James Bond”.
Rule number one has to be- Bond keeps going. Let’s face it, Homer Simpson and Superman both make the list of “people more likely to die than James Bond”, so all stuff about Bond ageing is going to have to go, along with all the un-subtle references to what Mendes feels the series should be, for example the Q quip I mentioned earlier is definitely a single use kind of gag. Now Mendes just has to make Bond as he feels it should be. Meaning that Skyfall was in essence, a declaration of intent. Mendes has to follow this up, firmly establish his style, and hence the style of the series, somewhere between the modern and the traditional. It’s the traditional aspects that give Bond a unique selling point and set the series apart from any other action film and Skyfall’s villain exemplified striking this balance of unique Bond versus modern film. Javier Bardem’s first appearance, his speech as he walked towards a captured and bound Daniel Craig was one of Skyfall’s most memorable moments and immortalised Raoul Silva as a Bond-villain to remember. Memorable yes, laughable no, Bardem’s character held all the uniqueness of a great Bond villain (and showed it, with his opening anecdote and moments later his William Tell inspired murder,) without seeming like he’d jumped straight from the pages of a comic book, as villains from some more traditional Bond films certainly did. Jaws, Nick-Nack and the diamond encrusted ‘Zao’- who chased Pierce Brosnan across ice in a Jaguar as recently as Die Another Day all fit the mould of Bond villains who won’t be welcome in Sam Mendes’ modern vision of 007.
If Mendes nails an appropriate Bond style, creating a plot that’s gripping and uses aspects of traditional Bond, without making them a running joke (as a continuation of Skyfall’s references might,) then the film is likely to be another of the franchises highlights. But the real key will gauging the level of Bond silliness Mendes will allow himself. Bond has to be just that little bit silly, there’s no other way to put it and that’s where Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace lost their way as part of a strong franchise. Skyfall got it back of course, the digger sequence and the Komodo dragons were undeniably a far cry from the brutal fisticuffs of Casino Royale but they made Skyfall special and Mendes will have to produce some more truly special Bond moments as he establishes his new breed of Bond.
By George Storr