Well, that’s a totally misleading title. I have actually seen a James Bond film, but for the majority of my life I hadn’t. Allow me to explain.
Have you ever said something in conversation with mixed company that caused everyone to stop talking and stare at you? I get that almost every single time I admit that I don’t like cheese, invariably asked to explain how in the world I still eat pizza if I don’t like cheese (simple: I ask them to go light on the cheese and heavy on the toppings). Well, on the film side of things I’ve inspired similar instantaneous, judging stares when I’ve admitted that I’ve never actually seen a James Bond movie. But, wait, how? There are have been 24 of those dang movies, grossing a combined $1.9 billion at the domestic box office alone, making Bond the fourth most lucrative film franchise in history behind Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s usually not hard to find some kind of James Bond film marathon somewhere on TV multiple times throughout any given year. Plus, I’m supposedly a film fan. I have a blog! How could I, of all people, have gone all this time without seeing at least one James Bond film?
Because a British dude drinking vodka martinis, driving cool cars, bedding and quickly forgetting gorgeous women, and playing with spy gadgets never seemed that cool to me. I didn’t need James Bond; I had Indiana Jones. Plus, by the time I was even old enough to watch the new James Bond movies we were in that odd dead zone between Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan.
Of course, re-reading all of that made me even second guess myself. James Bond kind of sounds amazing, even if he drinks so much he’d surely have liver failure, the womanizing is less cool than it is sad in a more modern context, and the cool gadgets seem less novel now that we live in a time where everyone carries around a smart phone with a gazillion apps.
Either way, eventually my best friend could tolerate my James Bond insubordination no longer. I won’t say that I was forced to watch Casino Royale in 2012, but things may have gotten seriously uncomfortable, albeit in a totally passive-aggressive way, if I had resisted much longer. Skyfall had just come out in theaters, 007 fever was catching, and Casino Royale was supposed to be really good. I didn’t quite realize I was signing up for James Bond via Batman Begins, i.e., an origin story for a character you might think long past the apparent need for one. It would be a long time before I realized that criticism wasn’t entirely fair because Batman Begins was itself actually heavily inspired by the Casino Royale novel, and dangit if Daniel Craig didn’t make for a compellingly flawed Bond. By the end, when he assumed the iconic pose and vernacular of “Bond, James Bond” the love-stricken story which had led to that point gave Craig’s ascension to stone cold killer status an air of defeat instead of victory. It changed how I viewed James Bond. That being said, I think this cartoon (specifically the part at the very end) best gets at my issues with the films’ big tragic death scene:
I didn’t come away from Casino Royale a newly converted James Bond fan, though. It’d be kind of hard to circle back around to the original films now, especially not after I’ve seen them generally and sometimes very specifically parodied in the Austin Powers films. I was, however, curious to see more of the Daniel Craig Bond. While my friend was insistent I watch Casino Royale she was equally insistent I stay far, far away from the apparent overly Bourne Identity-worshipping and often outright bad Quantum of Solace. Instead, I was simply prepared to see Skyfall, which I did, contributing to its astonishing $1.1 billion worldwide box office. I was not among those in the crowd who completely understood the reveal that Naomie Harris’ badass agent turned out to actually be an early version of Moneypenny nor did the big climactic death scene for one of the main characters carry much weight for me. I was not particularly interested to learn about James Bond’s childhood either. However, despite my lack of familiarity with the franchise’s history or real personal connection with any of the characters it was undeniable that Skyfall was a dang fine action movie.
Now, we finally know what to call the inevitable sequel: Spectre, due out 11/6/15. They’re officially describing the plot as follows, “A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.” Sam Mendes is back directing, even though for the briefest of moments it seemed like he might walk away. Christopher Nolan may yet get his shot at directing a Bond film, but it won’t be this one. Craig is back as Bond, joined by returning cast members Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris and newbies like Christoph Waltz, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, and Davie Bautista. The title clearly refers to a secret terrorist organization featured in several old Bond films, founded by iconic Bond villain Ernst Blofeld, i.e., the guy who was the basis for Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. In the earlier films, the word Spectre was an acronym for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, and they likely would have re-used the organization years ago if legal issues hadn’t prevented that from happening. At the press conference announcing Spectre, Sam Mendes promised the general things you do with sequels, your standard “bigger, better, more varied locations” promises. Car-worshipping portions of the internet are already freaking out over the new Aston Martin that will be Bond’s car in the film.
Yet even after appreciating both Casino Royale and Skyfall I still find myself mostly detached from the Bond phenomenon. After Skyfall improbably turned into the 9th highest grossing film (worldwide) of all time, it’s kind of impossible for me not to be curious how well Spectre will do at the box office, and Christoph Waltz seems like he was born to play a Bond villain if, in fact, that’s what they’ve cast him to do. I don’t believe the spin they’re giving that he’s actually been cast as some kind of father figure for Bond, specifically Hannes Oberhauser. This reeks of Batman Begins style misdirection. Either way, I’m still watching this from afar, vaguely aware that the manner in which Spectre’s script has apparently come about (lots and lots of rewrites) has led some to lower their expectations. However, while I will never be a James Bond diehard I am forever grateful for what that franchise has given us. Steven Spielberg made Raiders of the Lost Ark because he told his buddy George Lucas that he always wanted to direct a James Bond movie, and Lucas helped him redirect that energy into co-developing an idea he had for an homage to old action movie serials. Huge portions of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Inception are unabashedly inspired by Bond. Popular music is filled with so many great Bond songs, and fantastic parodies in film and TV are not hard to come by, stretching from Austin Powers to this hilarious Simpsons scene:
What about you? Where are you on the James Bond fan spectrum? A Daniel Craig-convert like me, or a longtime fan who just wishes the movies would start having fun again? Or are you actually closer to the title of this article than I am: Have you never seen a James Bond movie? Let me know in the comments.