James Bond blends old and new charms as 007 turns 50
Makers of the new James Bond movie Skyfall have striven to combine the old-school values that made 007 such a success over the last 50 years with enough modern mores to keep the silver screen’s favourite super spy relevant in a post-cold war world.
The 23rd official Bond film, which has its royal world premiere in London on Tuesday, brings together Daniel Craig on his third outing on Her Majesty’s secret service with British director Sam Mendes making his franchise debut.
The plot also puts veteran actress Judi Dench, 77, at the heart of the action as Bond’s superior M, and introduces Spanish Oscar-winner Javier Bardem as an uncharacteristically flamboyant villain complete with dyed blond hair.
Marking 50 years after the first Bond film Dr No premiered on London in 1962, Skyfall pays homage to Bond’s gadgets, his taste in fast cars and beautiful women and introduces enough humour to lighten the tone.
But it also seeks to show why the modern Bond is still relevant in a world where technology is as important to international spy networks as human beings.
“He was a product of his time and we live in a different time and I hope this movie reflects the time we live in,” Mendes told reporters at a recent publicity briefing.
He said the film served to answer questions about the relevance of Britain’s foreign intelligence agency (MI6) and the Bond character now that the cold war is over.
“We are talking about old values, which is what the movie argues for – honour, trust, friendship, courage – and in a way it is deeply old fashioned in its values,” Mendes said.
The tension between current intelligence gathering methods which rely more on satellites and computer hacking than Bond’s traditional sleuthing approach adds a degree of tension to the 23rd outing for the fictional spy character created by author Ian Fleming, Craig told reporters in an interview.
“Bond is very much within the old camp, which is that you have got to go and look people in the eye and ask them questions directly. And there we have the clash of the worlds,” Craig said.
In Skyfall, which features a new theme song performed by Adele, Bond travels between Istanbul, Shanghai and London as his loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her, while MI6 comes under attack from an unknown threat.
Craig as the modern Bond gives the audience snippets of vulnerability that counter the all-knowing cockiness of past Bonds. In Skyfall, he quickly learns he is dispensable, growing older and forced to face the ghosts of his childhood.
“He is a complicated character and that is worth looking at,” the 44-year-old Craig said, adding that even after his first Bond outing, Casino Royale, and then Quantum of Solace, released four years ago, he was still discovering the layers of Bond.
“I try to sort of hint at it, as opposed to exploring it.”
Bond’s famed smooth charm, and his willingness to use women for personal gratification have earned him his fair share of critics over the years. But fans will still recognise the Bond of old, Craig said.
“Women are there to satisfy him, I think he still believes that. But if we put strong women in front of him, then there is going to be some friction.
“But I kind of have to cling onto his chauvinism a bit, because I think it makes things more interesting.”
Audiences can’t “be too PC about it,” said Craig, “It’s a gag. Everybody has got the gag for this long. We understand the gag. It’s about making sparks, you want sparks. Death is sexy. Danger is sexy. It’s all about getting those elements into it.”
The pressure of marking the 50th anniversary of one of cinema’s most recognisable characters and valuable properties was pushed to the background during filming, according to Craig.
This year has already seen exhibitions, auctions, a documentary and plenty of merchandising to mark the cultural phenomenon that is Bond.
The film suffered a delay due to financial troubles at studio MGM, allowing for several script rewrites.
“It was in the back of our minds,” Craig said, adding that the joke on set was that Skyfall might be a huge flop spelling the end of the franchise after five decades.
Instead, the movie tries to emulate the slick costume design and style of those 1960s Bond films, including bringing back the Aston Martin DB5.
“I remember going to see Bond movies and being transported somewhere and that was what we aimed for on this,” Craig said. “It picks up things from those early movies.”
Critics in Britain have praised American Beauty director Mendes for stronger characters and letting dramatic moments in the film breathe.
The film is released in Britain on Friday and on November 4 in the United States. The 22 Bond films have made around US$5 billion at the box office.
Like the franchise, Craig said he will be “pushing 50” when he has completed the next two Bond films under his contract and promised to “completely” call it quits.
In the meantime, “If you find yourself being bored of playing James Bond, then you are really ready to give up,” he said.