Published: Nov 13, 2012 12:00:00 PM

"Modernizing" is a fascinating concept. No movie franchise does it better than James Bond -- it helps that it's 50 years old.


Is modernizing objective? Yes, to a fault. Is it cynical? Sure, oftentimes. Is it disrespectful? That's somebody's opinion, and although I find opinions to be fascinating, I have my own, and they cause me enough anxiety without help, so I'll only think hard about your's if your brain deserves a firm blow to its mouth.

Skyfall is a great movie, reminding us that great movies can have gunfights in them, and reminding us how eternal James Bond can be, even with his ridiculous misogyny and fetishistic love for uncomfortable, British-built sportscars.

Right around the turn of the century, after a bunch of no-name actors made X-Men, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings profitable, Will Smith and Tom Cruise shat their collective pants. The era of the movie star was dwindling, and movie studios realized there was an entire subculture of people exchanging ideas on the Internet that were more loyal to a franchise's brand than an actor's brand. Then Attack of the Clones and The Matrix Reloaded made a quabillion dollars, despite them being not too great (the latter, much worse than the former), but they proved a point -- the money was in the recognizable name, and it needn't necessarily be an actor.

Actors are fickle variables and people making movies dislike fickle things and variables.

Seeing another movie starring Schwarzenegger wasn't a thrill for audiences. Seeing Batman revived in modernized regalia was a thrill.

The Internet is a cruel mistress because the people that used to be nothing more than denizens of message boards eventually grew up to be bloggers and movie critics for websites, and after years (years!) of reinforcing why the Sega Genesis was shitty via the written(ish) word, dissecting everything down the sound chip for evidence to their cause, they were suddenly showing up at press screenings for Die Another Day in 2002. They had eyes for your errors. They wanted plot-holes, they wanted hard evidence, more than to enjoy a film, they wanted to be able to destroy it, should anybody ask. They had always wanted a way to blow up something bigger than themselves, something that they loved, and now they finally had the means to do it.

Kneel before Zod, Hollywood.


Implausibility was no longer acceptable. Space lasers and invisible cars were out, bro. They're dumb, and I hate you. The bad CGI didn't help, either, I'm looking at you, burly brawl. In 2005, Christopher Nolan showed up with perfect timing to make Batman a real guy in Batman Begins. A year later, in 2006, Bond returned in Casino Royale, drawing on the chop-socky krav maga that The Bourne Identity brought to the antiquated spy genre in 2002. It also was lucky to include parkour and poker playing, both of which were stupid-popular and en vogue at the time.

Suddenly, stunts were back. Quentin Tarantino made a whole gosh-darn terrible movie about one stunt. And check out the intro to Casino Royale, even your mom thought it was cool. Making a hero a vulnerable, introverted sociopath made his story more tactile and made him less susceptible to having critics punch holes in his story -- also, don't do movies starring women, man, they just bomb. Now why is this? Well, look at the world in the 2000's. It was all terrorists and gray areas. You couldn't trust a hero that's working for The Man. He needed to be an idealist, not bound to a country. Like Vin Diesel, but, you know, not Vin Diesel.

Bond was motivated by a woman in Casino Royale, fuck, he all but quit his job with the British government to jet off to the South Pacific to bang Eva Green on a boat for the rest of his life. Batman was motivated by a death in his family, not because Uncle Sam asked him for a hand. And people dug that. People dug self-patriotism, people fighting for the Nation Of Me. As individuals, we were beginning to manifest as visible presences on the Internet, something that used to be limited to somebody lurking on MySpace or Napster. This was pre-Twitter and before social media was a term, so we weren't a unified wave on the Net. We weren't twelve million angry men yet. We were just angry, alone.

Things took the logical next step -- social media unified us. Nationalism was modernized with the 2008 presidential election in the US, and all the young adults that invented Web 2.0 communication with Facebook were suddenly voting the old regime out of power. Like-mindedness became a comforting, plausible thing, and nationalism sort of made sense again. We had the tools to make it quantifiable and digestible, and somewhere right now, Karl Rove is trying to explain away the $300 million he lost in the 2012 elections.


In Skyfall, James Bond is once again cast as a relic of a bygone era -- an angry renegade, something that fit the environment in Casino Royale (* * * * out of 4), but doesn't really jive with the modern Britain where MI6 is chasing shadows and terrorists without nations. Threats with an eye to upend polite society. Bond played a similar angle in Goldeneye, which coincidentally was the last time he took a noticeable hiatus between movies, but instead of being a relic of The Cold War, this Bond is a relic of The Reboot War. He's a loner drunk with daddy issues and a grayed 5 o'clock shadow fighting a technologically-savvy villain, Silva, who is sort of similar to Bond in the previous film, Quantum of Solace.


James stays drunk for a while. He stays a renegade and drops a dude off of a high-rise after a beautiful, shiver-inducing, one-take fist-fight on top of a Shanghai skyscraper. He kind of drops him by accident though, because nobody's perfect. What's important about the villain in this movie is that he's realistically sad and psychotic. As terrible as it sounds, this is the home-grown terrorist we all fear, a lone gunman with a chip on his shoulder, living to fight another day. He's the modern, misguided soul, nihilistic only until it would be more exciting for him to care -- that's when he assaults the unassailable. He attacks Britain's collective lingering guilt, fixating specifically on M.

Then Bond drops the act. He's modernized, and he is going to fight for queen and country against this lone psychopath that is just so damn right about everything, isn't he? Silva is every dick with a laptop and a search engine, assuring everybody that he's right, and you're wrong, and nobody understands his pain, and he's terrifying because Javier Bardem switches him between arrogant and flamboyant to enraged and weepy throughout the movie. He's psychopath warning-signs made flesh. That's modernization. A few years earlier, Silva could have been the hero in a movie, or at least an anti-hero -- he's eerily similar to V in V For Vendetta, who is a different character, depending on if you've watched the movie or read the book (both are good for various reasons). In this case though, Silva's one-man-against-the-world bent is evil.


Bond realizes this. He goes home. He goes low-tech and booby-traps his family's old estate with Jerry-rigged death-gadgets in a scene that somebody described to me as "007 meets Home Alone." With dead guys.

These movies morph with the times. It's weird. Sometimes Bond is a suave swinger. Sometimes he's unfeeling. But he's adaptive and he's modern, and sometimes he stars in really fucking good movies. Watch Bond, people -- where Bond goes, the world follows. For good or for ill, watch Bond.

P.S. -- Skyfall is the house. It's the house he grew up in. Spoilers.

-- Alex Crumb (originally published 11/13/12)
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