This week sees the release of Skyfall, the 23rd outing for one of blockbuster cinema's most famous characters: James Bond.
But let's say you've never seen a James Bond movie. It's nothing to be embarrassed about — in fact, pretending you know something Bond might even be more offensive to the aficionado. We here at Hollywood.com feel your pain, but want to help. Here is our simple guide to the James Bond franchise that should help you understand a little about why people are so obsessed with the half century-old spy franchise, and perhaps, even get you interested enough to watch one too:
Okay, who is this James Bond I keep hearing about?
He's Agent 007, member of the British Secret Service.
But who is he?
Ah. The deep version. Well, as we learn in the last Bond outing Skyfall, Bond didn't have an easy childhood (telling you more would be a big spoilery no-no). But until 2012, it's never been a defining characteristic of the secret agent with a license to kill. He's always been just removed enough from reality to do whatever it takes to complete a mission.
Did you say "license to kill?"
That's right. Bond's Double-0 status gives him the authority to take his PPK pistol and pop one in a nefarious thug. Grim, but that's the job.
That doesn't sound entertaining as much as horrifying.
Luckily, a great Bond movie never gets so serious that the idea of taking out bad guys leaves you with a bad moral aftertaste. Author Ian Fleming, a former British secret serviceman himself, created Bond to be the ultimate debonaire. He jets off to exotic lands for his missions, sleeps with beautiful women, utilizes the spiffiest new gadgetry, and always saves the day. And FYI: he takes his martinis shaken, not stirred.
Okay, that sounds a little less horrifying.
Did I mention he routinely drives a pimped out Aston Martin DB5? He routinely drives a pimped out Aston Martin DB5.
Fancy. Who pays for all this stuff?
Technically, the British government. Bond isn't Batman — he may be the one throwing a criminal mastermind off the side of a building or defusing a bomb just in the nick of time, but he's never alone. Back at home base, Bond as a team of elites guiding him: M, the mastermind of the MI6 operation; Q, the gadget extraordinaire who can turn any mild-mannered object into a tool of destruction; and Moneypenny, the flirtatious office manager who always has the right intel at the right time.
I'm still grieving from the Revolutionary War and this whole "Bond" thing sounds awfully British.
Don't worry. For a Yankee who sees Bond as a franchise that's drowning in a spot of tea, Fleming wrote in Felix Leiter, a CIA agent who pops up to help Bond every now and then. The kind of help that can put 32 million francs in the spy's pocket when he's gambling against international terrorists (like in Casino Royale).
So why don't I remember ever seeing James Bond in theaters, DVD, or on a dusty VHS?
Because there isn't actually a movie called James Bond. It all started with Dr. No in 1962, the first adaptation of Fleming's series from franchise masterminds Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. It took a long time for someone to take a chance on James Bond as a character, people never really understanding the qualities that were important to making him thrive on screen. Then, like magic, it all came together thanks to the animal magnetism of Sean Connery, the first big screen 007.
Let's see... if you don't know Sean Connery as Bond, maybe you remember him as Indiana Jones' Dad in The Last Crusade, Jim Malone in The Untouchables, the bad guy in the TV adapted spy adventure The Avengers, or the S&M looking hero of Zardoz?
Rings a bell, but I just Googled "James Bond" and it comes up with a picture of that guy from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
That's because Connery only played James Bond from 1962 to 1967 (and a one-off return in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever). Connery helped define the character of James Bond in the beginning of the franchise's existence. He got the humor, got the action, got the style. He could beat up a guy in a close-quarters fist fight (From Russia With Love) and make brow sweat look cool. On the other hand, he could also find himself strapped to a table, about to be cut by a laser, and never lose his cool. His Bond established the character as humanly superhuman. But the reason we're still talking about Bond 50 years after the first movie is because the franchise has continually recast 007. Between Connery's penultimate and final Bond movies, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, the first Bond replacement was found: George Lazenby.
Never heard of him.
Lazenby only starred in a single Bond movie: On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969. He didn't click with the vision the producers had in mind and was quickly replaced. Although if you dare to go and investigate, he's actually quite good. In a rare moment of drama, Lazenby's 007 witnesses the death of his new wife (yes, at some point he actually hung around a woman long enough to fall in love). Heavy.
And then came the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy, right?
Do you know how time works? No, next to fill Bond's shoes was Roger Moore, an older Bond with a whole lot of charm. With less emphasis on the physical aspects that helped Connery become an icon, Moore's string of films played up the comedy. The only way you can take 007 into space (Moonraker) or dress him up like a clown (Octopussy) is to have a wink-wink approach. That was Moore's contribution to the series.
And then came the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy.
What? No! Then came Timothy Dalton who picked up the series in the '80s. A serious British thespian who wanted to transform Bond into a gritty killer worthy of the Cold War conflict, Dalton turned The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill into two notable, yet underappreciated franchise installments. He was ahead of his time, leaving the Roger Moore humor at the door and opting for bloodshed and drama.
And then... came the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy?
Nope. Pierce Brosnan was the next in line after Dalton, finding a balance between the modern interpretation and the cartoonish fun more common in Moore's Bond films. With Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day, Bond went toe-to-toe with big budget action movies, and in turn, amped up the set pieces with wild stunts and gadgets (in Die Another Day, Bond surfs a tsunami then outdrives a space laser with an invisible car).
And then came then The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy.
It had to come true eventually. The "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy" is Daniel Craig, and after a lengthy casting process — with names like Clive Owen and Henry Cavill up for the part — relative unknown Craig nabbed the part. He's been doing the gritty, realistic, and blonde-topped version of Bond since 2006's Casino Royale.
If Bond has been a spy for 50 years, who has he been fighting this whole time? Lex Luthor? Sauron? The Volturi?
Bond's villainous rogue's gallery has been mostly comprised of random evildoers. There's the bullion-obssesed Auric Goldfinger and his hat-throwing sidekick Oddjob (Goldfinger), the deadly assassin Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun), Christopher Walken's psycho businessman Max Zorin (A View to Kill), Robert Davi's too-real-for-comfort drug cartel leader Franz Sanchez (Licence to Kill), scorned MI6 agent Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye), and oil maven Elektra King (whose boyfriend Renard has a bullet slowly burrowing into his brain) — just to name a few.
What, so no continuity?
You know what continuity is?
Someone mentioned the word once in an article about Marvel superhero movies.
Well don't worry too much — the magic of new villains creates a standalone (and enjoyable adventure) every time. That said, Bond has had continuity in the past. Blofeld, the bald-headed, cat-stroking villain who has inspired both Dr. Evil and Claw from Inspector Gadget, was a reoccurring adversary for 007 for years. Instead of engaging Bond in fisticuffs (where the spy's license to kill would likely end in his demise), Blofeld wisely orchestrated much of the terror, pulling strings for members of his organization, SPECTRE, who carried out the deadly plots of From Russia with Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever. Many thought the modern Bond movies may find a SPECTRE-like groove with the inclusion of QUANTUM in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
You have a fondness for all things Bond. But why should I actually take the plunge? I need something worth munching popcorn to.
Here's what you can expect from a Bond movie: everything and nothing. This is a franchise that's followed its lead character as he escaped KGB while riding a cello case down a snowy mountain, killed a guy with a zamboni, chased down an airplane on horseback, twirled a dance partner into an incoming bullet, self-defibrillated himself to stop a deadly poison, two-wheeled a mac truck to avoid a missile, and shot a guy with a harpoon mid-makeout session. The series is nothing but eclectic. It helps to know where the series is coming from if (or should I say, when) you decide to dive in yourself, but the beautiful thing about Bond is that with each passing movie, it never repeats.
Everything makes sense now. Except for those crazy opening music sequences.
I can't explain the artistic wonderment of a naked women dancing to A-ha. That's just something you have to feel out yourself.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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