I don't hate James Bond, but I should. I certainly hate every character like James Bond. What am I supposed to admire about a cocky, cold, omni-competent dreamboat/skirt-chaser with a penchant for bad puns? What can I relate to? (Other than the bad pun part, as my children will tell you.)
But there's an important distinction between James Bond and all the Bond knock-offs we've seen over the years. One that makes all the difference.
He's James Bond.
That's all it takes to buy you a lot of goodwill, even from me. Especially from me, actually, because I grew up watching James Bond movies. That's why 007 gets a pass on the whole cocky, cold, omni-competent dreamboat/skirt-chaser thing, while Napoleon Solo, Derek Flint, Matt Helm and James West don't. ("Omni-competent," in case you're wondering, means the ability to do absolutely anything perfectly at a moment's notice. Have you known anyone who could fight, ski, scuba dive, parachute, win at any casino game and convince a beautiful villainess of the error of her ways via one spectacular roll in the hay? This might be what Vladimir Putin wants us to think he is, but I can't imagine anyone coming close in real life.)
So as an Old School Bondophile -- one for whom a Sunday-night viewing of On Her Majesty's Secret Service was once nirvana, even if it did mean staying up till midnight because of the brutal commercial padding -- I've been looking forward to the newest Bond flick, Skyfall. To further whet my already plenty-whetty appetite, I went on a Bond nostalgia tear the last half-year, rewatching a dozen 007 adventures I hadn't seen since I was a bleary-eyed eighth grader trying to catch up on homework because of that ultra-long showing of You Only Live Twice the night before.
Revisiting the Bond of yore as an adult, I noticed a few things.
*I know Sean Connery's supposed to be everyone's favorite retro-Bond, but he's not mine. Connery's great, I think, in just about anything but Bond movies. I find his 007 stiff, uninteresting and a bit of a dick. (Back in the day, if a virile hero-type kissed a woman and she pushed him away or even slapped him, that was simply his cue to grab hold and kiss harder. Here in this day, that kind of thing is beyond creepy, even if the woman does end up melting in the hero's arms and sighing "Oh, James.")
*Some James Bond movies are boring. Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, for instance, feel bloated and lumbering despite spectacular set pieces. Say what you will about the Roger Moore era -- the movies got zippier.
*Oh, and speaking of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, it's not as good as people seem to think it is. The first hour is slow and episodic, and the second hour is...well, slow and episodic some more. A lot of fans credit the film for bringing a dose of emotion to the series, but you know what? Nerts to that. [Highlight to read spoilers.] Sure, Bond gets married at the end only to see his wife gunned down by revenge-seeking bad guys. But the scene didn't pack any wallop I could detect. To me, it felt more like, "Gee, guys -- we can't change the formula. How do we get rid of this broad as quickly as possible?"
*Oh, and George Lazenby as Bond? Meh. 007 fun fact: For about half of OHMSS, Bond's undercover as a twit genealogy expert, and the entire time Lazenby's voice is dubbed by a more posh-sounding Englishman. It's really odd and distracting once you notice it. Imagine if the middle third of Casino Royale followed Bond's efforts to infiltrate the KKK, so the producers brought in Larry the Cable Guy to dub over Daniel Craig's voice.
*Octopussy is actually a fun little movie despite having the most embarrassing title since Rat Pfink a Boo Boo. Moonraker isn't as terrible as some people make it out to be. Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun and For Your Eyes Only are pretty solid pieces of entertainment. And The Spy Who Loved Me is pretty danged great. Does my fondness for these films have anything to do with the fact that most of them came out when I was an adolescent boy? (I dragged all my friends to see Moonraker on my 11th birthday, then we went home and played with my new Tudor Electric Football game.) Naw. Surely that's just a coincidence....
I didn't venture beyond AVtaK during my escapist flashbacks, so I have no new insights on the franchise post-Moore. (The Living Daylights, the first of Timothy Dalton's two outings as Bond, came out at the end of my freshman year of college, and you know what? Nostalgia for me pretty much ends with high school. After that, it's all rueful regret.)
I will say this about the modern Bonds, though: Skyfall, which I saw two nights ago, is spectacular. And if some eighth grader stumbles upon this blog post and says "Roger Moore the best? You've gotta be kidding. It's Daniel Craig!"...? Well, that's exactly as it should be.
SPOILER-FILLED POSTSCRIPT RANT: As mentioned above, I enjoyed the heck out of Skyfall. But did anyone else think it fell one twist shy of greatness? I kept expecting Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to be unmasked as the true mastermind behind the attacks on MI6. Didn't it look like he was just manipulating his way to the top of the organization the whole time? Without that kind of final-scene reveal, it seems to me that the bad guy actually won. Think about it. In what way was Silva (Javier Bardem) foiled? He wanted M disgraced and humiliated. She was disgraced and humiliated. He wanted M to die. She died. He even wanted to die himself, and of course Bond obliged him. I mean, hey -- it was great that the bad guy wasn't a billionaire out to destroy the world, but a teeny bit more cleverness and Skyfall could have been a classic. But then again, what do I know? I'm the guy who still gets a kick out of Octopussy....