Let me explain. This is a particularly important year for the Bond franchise. First of all, 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the James Bond film franchise, the second-highest grossing ever, which began with the 1962 release of “Dr. No” (1962). For Bond geeks like my brother, who reads CommanderBond.net daily (I kid you not) and religiously watches Spike’s Bond marathon on Thanksgiving day, this is basically an opportunity to load up on goods like the 50th anniversary Blu-ray collection or, for the more financially endowed, the 007 Omega watch.
More pertinent to those who do not care about a celebration that is essentially an excuse to pander new merchandise, 2012 will see the release of Bond 24, mysteriously named “Skyfall” (2012), on Oct. 26. For those of you who watched 2008’s deplorable “Quantum of Solace,” don’t let that experience keep you from the theaters this time around. While MGM produced “Quantum of Solace” (2008) during the full force of the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild strike, prompting both director Marc Forster and star Daniel Craig to rewrite scenes, Skyfall will boast writing dream team John Logan, who was Oscar-nominated for Hugo this year, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, both veteran writers of Bond.
Even better, Oscar-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes (“American Beauty” (2001), “Road to Perdition” (2002), “Revolutionary Road” (2008)) directs. Given Mendes’ always fascinating camerawork and penchant for serious projects, this Bond film likely will be more than a vehicle for car chases, beautiful women and quick quips.
The acting prospects are also better than ever before. The released plot summary shows Judi Dench’s M with an expanded role: “Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.” Javier Bardem, who proved his villain chops with his chilling performance as Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” (2007), will play the antagonist. Ralph Fiennes even has an undisclosed role — most fan websites claim he will be a government agent. And in the first film still released (see above), Daniel Craig sports stubble. On the always cool and collected Bond, this is a momentous detail: The only other time Bond wore facial hair, in “Die Another Day” (2002), he was detained, enduring prolonged torture, in a North Korean prison.
However, Craig’s scruffy look in this gorgeous, moody still is not incongruous with the way his portrayal of Bond has reshaped the franchise. Introduced in 2006’s brutal and revolutionary “Casino Royale,” Craig’s Bond embodied the same post-9/11 vengeful and deeply flawed hero that propelled so many films that decade. Think Jason Bourne, the Batman of Christopher Nolan’s reboot and Lisbeth Salander of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011). All seek revenge for a fundamental trauma that lends them superhuman capabilities. By suggesting Bond’s origins as an orphan, portraying the terrible cost of his killings and developing a love story with a woman who is much more than her beauty, “Casino Royale” irrevocably changed Bond and demonstrated the staying power of the franchise. Despite all its flaws, “Quantum of Solace” perpetuated this new type with Bond revenging the heartbreak he suffered in the previous film. “Skyfall,” probing the “personal cost” of new obstacles, promises to do even better by twenty-first century Bond.
Sure, the appeal of the Bond films has something to do with the beautiful locales, the Aston Martins, the women (“Octupussy” (1983), anyone?) and the meticulously choreographed fights, but the longevity of the franchise lends it unbelievable significance. Watching all the Bond films from 1962’s to today’s, we can see how one man has changed to reflect the time he inhabits — and its collective hopes and fears.
Essential Bond viewing:
“Goldfinger” (1964): The classic Sean Connery Bond.
“Thunderball” (1965): The underwater battles are always great on a dreary winter day.
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969): Contains the skiing scene that inspired the third dream level in Inception (OHMSS is Christopher Nolan’s favorite) as well as one of the most thematically resonant storylines of all Bonds.
“GoldenEye” (1995): Pierce Brosnan’s first and best Bond, though “The World is Not Enough” (1999) is also quite good.
“The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977): I’m not a Roger Moore fan, but this is commonly recognized as the peak of his time as Bond. Also see the groovy “Moonraker” (1979) for a good laugh.
“Casino Royale” (2006): Perhaps you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t already seen it.
For more, take Bond and Beyond.