New Bond Goes Old School: Exploring 007's Past and Playing With 'Sexual Intimidation'
It's not exactly a midlife crisis, but as James Bond celebrates 50 years on the big screen, he goes back to his roots in order to find a way forward.
Although briefly outlined in series creator Ian Fleming's final novel, You Only Live Twice, Bond's childhood -- with its archetypal orphaned-at-a-young age story -- has largely been ignored in the films. Skyfall, the 23rd film in the vaunted series, brings the shadowy biography into the fore, fleshing out for the first time the backstory of a character whose blank slate has become its own canon. There is an inherent danger in interrupting the fantasies of hardened Bond fans, but screenwriter John Logan, a fan of the series since 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, credited the franchise's producers for allowing 007 to evolve and permitting the new film to treat Bond, played for the third time by Daniel Craig, with "the complexity of a modern film character."
Parental mysteries, though, are the least of the liberties Logan, who worked closely with director Sam Mendes on a script initially written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, took with the character. In a pivotal -- and sure to be talked-about -- scene that finds Bond tied to a chair by Javier Bardem's flamboyant villain character, there is a wink-wink, arched-eyebrow exchange between the two, in which Bardem slowly unbuttons Craig's shirt and the famously libidinous agent smiles as he hints at maybe having had previous experience in same-sex carnal relations. It would seem a first for 007, but Logan doesn't think it's much of a stretch.
"Some people claim it’s because I’m, in fact, gay but not true at all," Logan told The Hollywood Reporter at the NYC premiere of the film, thrown by Tribeca Film Institute. "Sam and I were discussing, there were so many scenes where Bond goes mano-a-mano with the villain, whether it’s Dr. No or Goldfinger or whatever, and there’s been so many ways to do a cat-and-mouse and intimidate Bond, and we thought, what would truly make the audience uncomfortable is sexual intimidation; playing the sort of homoerotic card that is sort of always there subtextually with characters like Scaramanga in Man With the Golden Gun or Dr. No. So we just decided that we should play the card and enjoy it."
Whether the homoeroticism is a new card or a jack tucked under his tuxedo sleeve, there are certain well-known traditions that must be upheld. The MI6 agent always has been a heightened version of fiction, a living legend whose vast film legacy -- the cars, the women, the espionage -- breathes and follows him even as his memory is reset by each opening sequence of his next film. As a self-proclaimed Bond geek, and new caretaker of the franchise, Logan was keenly aware of some things he must -- and very much wanted to -- include.
"You have to have beautiful women, you have to have great action, you have to have some amount of suavity, and you have to have a certain amount of espionage," in a Bond film. "Oh, and a great villain."
For those reasons and many more, Bardem certainly qualifies. And Skyfall packs plenty of nods to the other obvious and beloved classic trademarks -- the Aston Martin car, the classic John Barry score, the two Bond girls -- but there also is a deliberate attempt to pare down some of the excesses. Instead of nifty yet scientifically impossible gadgets, 007 is given just a personalized gun and a tiny radio, gigantic action sequences are fought on trains, and old-school dynamite triggers most of the big bangs.
Craig's Bond always has relied on his grit and strength, beginning with the series semi-reboot Casino Royale in 2006. Some say that came as a response to the big-screen adaptations of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels, which saw Matt Damon inject the modern-day spy character with a new edge and toughness. Logan, whose script infuses the Bond franchise with its rawest, most unadorned action yet, says it has nothing to do with the newcomer -- and puts that series, which stumbled a bit in its segue to a fourth film featuring Jeremy Renner, in a different league entirely.
"Jason Bourne -- step back, kid. You’ve got a long way to go before you hit your 50th anniversary," he said, half-jokingly, adding that his film's effort to mix dark themes and classic 007 details "has nothing to do with Bourne. It has to do with wanting to create a really realistic story but also acknowledge the grandiosity of Bond, so that it could be both an honest-to-God movie for adults and also a Bond movie that has the women and the cars and the action that the audience loves."
Logan will have a chance to continue to build on that new-old legacy; he has signed to write the next two films in the Bond franchise.
Skyfall opens wide Nov. 9 in North America.
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin