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It’s the 23rd James Bond film in 50 years: Skyfall carries the weight of expectation, the hope for continued relevance and the confirmation of 007’s cinematic power. Andrew L. Urban looks ahead.

Daniel Craig wasn’t even born when Sean Connery created the first screen image of James Bond in 1962, chasing Dr No. I was working in my first grown up job, as a reporter on a London men’s fashion trade weekly and the film’s visual influence reached even our pages, with layouts featuring the large circles that symbolised bullet holes/gun barrel in the opening titles. I had read Dr. No and was an instant fan of the film. I was not unique in my response to the hero figure who could seduce women while simultaneously undo the evil plots for world domination – while downing a shaken martini.

"stop your heart" 

But it wasn’t just all that – nor even the specially rigged Aston Martin DB5 he acquired in Goldfinger and all the other sexy gadgets; these are accessories and personality attributes. Oscar winning John Logan – the newest writer to join the Bond family on Skyfall – puts his finger on it: “I felt greatly encouraged to make the screenplay unique, using my particular strengths as a writer. Coming from the world of theatre, for me, it has always been about character and dialogue. When you look over the vast panoply of Bond films, things tend to emerge, like a lightning bolt: great moments of dialogue, great moments of character interaction – whether it’s Bond and Goldfinger, Bond and Blofeld, or Bond and Vesper Lynd. Those are the amazing scenes that just stop your heart because they’re unexpected in what’s considered a genre movie.”

They say that in movies, action is character; but so is dialogue and I’ve flicked back through some of the scenes in early Bond films to remind myself how the dialogue helped define his character. In Bond’s case, action was always defined by his job as a deeply, unquestionably loyal British spy – his loyalty being his most overtly positive character trait; and this character was – and is – also defined, revealed, by what he says and how he says it to his enemies and his friends. And the women. 

"Craig has brought a new credibility to the Bond character"

This isn’t a think piece to analyse why the James Bond franchise is the longest and most successful in film history. I am more interested in what will happen to the franchise now – now that it has been rescued from a largely saggy fate in Connery’s wake. Craig has brought a new credibility to the Bond character, although I still miss the easy charm, the dry and frequent wit, and the suave presentation. 

But in Skyfall, Bond is a serious and topically relevant secret agent, not just a lad with a licence to kill. 

In another 50 years, an actor not yet born will no doubt be tackling his first or third film as the flawed but admirable 007. Another 23 or so films, perhaps, another 23 stories in which James Bond averts global disaster and annoys Q. Will M be gay? Who will be his enemies in the future; evil madmen like in the past, or will writers move the enemy goalposts and bring the real world closer to the fictional one in which Bond moves? Will he ever work with a Muslim woman? Or have kids? 

For the Bond franchise to survive and succeed, it must continue to differentiate itself from the likes of Jason Bourne (initials notwithstanding) and other spies who can shoot and fight and speak several languages and pick locks and swim underwater and disarm warheads with a single swipe. 

In fact, even as his world changes and the work morphs into sinister new realms, Bond must remain frozen as a character, womanising and driving too fast, drinking and killing and making witty, mischievous quips. His tailor must remain in Seville Row and his martini must remain shaken. And yes, the Bond theme must remain the emotional turbine for scenes when Bond springs to action. 

"the sparkle of his wit that sets him apart"

In my view, it’s the sparkle of his wit that sets him apart, not his depth of knowledge, nor his resourcefulness; any spy can master those. And of course, the villains he has to take down.

Goldfinger (1964), From Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965)

Published November 22, 2012

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Dr No (1962)


Barbara Broccoli talks to Andrew L. Urban on a life of Bonding

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It took a freshness of approach to lure him back to direct a James Bond movie again after a decade

Quantum of Solace (2008)
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