What should be an exciting time for James Bond fans might be souring on the vine. After Skyfall ended with scenes that seemed to say, “Okay, enough of the introspection, let’s get down to being Bond again,” there have been more disappointed reviews of Spectre than positive ones. And not just that it’s a bad Bond movie, but that it’s a bad movie period. Of course, that’s not going to keep me from seeing it (although probably not until Sunday at the earliest, since I’ll be busy with Wine & Dine shenanigans until then), but it has dampened the excitement somewhat.
Thing is, even after more than fifty years, hearing those brass hits as the theme kicks in still gives me a thrill. As anachronistic as the style of that music is these days, it’s so quintessentially Bond, you can’t imagine a Bond film without it (a lesson DC needs to remember with their Superman films). The problem is, aside from the theme, it seems like everybody wants to reinvent Bond somehow, to make him more in line with the times. Which says to me they’re missing the very thing that makes Bond’s appeal so enduring: that very same anachronistic nature.
The Bond series earned its bones back in the 1960s. A time when jetting off to some exotic foreign locale was still a big deal that most people would never experience. A time when two Cold Warring super-powers and their allies created a backdrop against which Bonds exploits seemed, while maybe not plausible, definitely relatable. And a time when the simplicity of the character didn’t run afoul of modern attitudes and sensibilities.
In short, the best way I see to “save” Bond is to send him back to his roots: make the next film a period piece.
It’s not a new idea. People have been suggesting it for years. But it really dug into me when, of all things, I saw Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. There’s a sequence where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Frank Abagnale draws inspiration for one of his cons from Bond in Goldfinger. The entire thing is scored with the Bond theme, and while it’s a great film in general, this sequence absolutely sings. It was a modern evocation of those older films, a glimpse at what a period Bond film might look like, and good lord did I want more of it.
A period Bond would have that epic Cold War backdrop. Not that we don’t have spies and secrets these days, but pitting Bond against them is almost too realistic. Give us an escapist setting that’s recent enough to be recognizable but comfortably distant enough not to remind us modern threats. And it would feature an era that, while massively romanticized over the years, was undeniably cool: the early ’60s, Swinging London, the early days of the Space Race and the gee-whiz future that it promised. Along with all that is the added benefit of an environment in which global megalomaniac and world-spanning covert organizations wouldn’t seem so outlandish. Not that I’m looking for a serious version of Austin Powers, but even the way the recent Bond films have evoked SMERSH and SPECTRE have been so dour and serious, they might be entertaining to watch, but they haven’t all been fun either.
Creatively, going period would give a director a chance to let loose with some style. They wouldn’t be bound by the seemingly iron-bound rules of modern action filmmaking where you have to zoom in as close as possible, shake the camera and cut every five seconds. They could embrace the tone of the period, all free-wheeling and optimistic and brightly colored, where you knew Bond would save the world and not worry about the ramifications and the moral quandaries and the legality of his actions. Embrace the anachronism of the theme and go jazz crazy with the score.
And this doesn’t mean you have to make Bond a misogynistic, chain-smoking chauvinist. You can make him a man of his time without making him an unlikable thug. If you ask me, the Daniel Craig films have gone a little too far with the “blunt instrument” idea. Give me a Bond who’s lethal, but also suave and sophisticated. Look at the way Sean Connery glides through the room in Dr. No the first time the Bond theme kicks in. He’s a predator in a tux. That’s Bond to me, and in a way that Craig has never quite captured.
But I doubt I’ll ever get this wish. Bond is too big a property — and still way too successful — to take such a risk with. Even while films like Kingsman: The Secret Service — while more period in style than period in form — prove that a more traditional approach would work. And maybe growing older has just made me more nostalgic for the things of my childhood, when a Bond movie on TV felt like a huge deal, and Paul Freakin’ McCartney did a Bond theme. I’m grateful we’re still getting Bond on the big screen, and will for the foreseeable future. I just wish that future would take some cues from its past.