Fragments #5: Shaken and Stirred – Continuity and 007

When Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture, interviewed me last year, we discussed the notion of serialization and how it was the unsung hero of comics; I called the “elasticity” of character, the ability of a character to transcend genre, era and creative team over the course of 12 issues a year for x number of years, the primary factor in the endurance of characters like Superman and Batman. What I didn’t talk about, and, in retrospect, wish I had, was that with elasticity of character must come “constancy” of character, a primal, unchanging simplicity at a character’s core. That constancy is the very thing that enables a character’s elasticity.

ohmssposterNowhere is constancy more well-represented in film than in the James Bond film series, begun in 1962 with Terence Young’s Dr. No, the film that catapulted Sean Connery to movie star status and launched the longest running series in film history.

Though there have been character-driven (for the most part, Bond films are plot-driven) deviations from that Bondian constancy throughout the canon–married man in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Daniel Craig’s tenure, for example–the core of Bond, a relentless and refined force of nature who always gets the job done, no matter the cost, has remained intact.

Just as Superman and Batman have endured for more than seven decades through a constancy and elasticity that allows for vibrant continuities to be built around them, so too has the cinematic James Bond. However, to wade into the the murky waters of continuity of Bond, we have to place a dividing marker in the sand: the first forty years worth of films, from 1962’s Dr. No to 2002’s Die Another Day, represent the first “Bond” continuity while Daniel Craig’s films, from 2006’s Casino Royale to 2012’s Skyfall and beyond, represent a new “Bond” continuity…

…or do they? (Say that in a Jeremy Clarkson/Top Gear voice).

PENCIL CONTINUITY

I like to call the first Bond continuity “Pencil Continuity.” When a new artist takes over a well-known, iconic character, say jumping from the clean stylings of Jim Aparo to the gothic Baroque-ness of Kelley Jones on Batman, there is a decided tonal shift in the representation of that character and in the stories being told, but it is still, without a doubt Batman. So it is with Bond; each version of Bond had a different penciler with a different style at the helm: Connery defined the Bond concept as alpha-Bond: confident, tongue-in-cheek, but deadly; Lazenby, in his single outing, was the dashing young rogue (who, I argue, could have been the best had he stuck with the role; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is still my favorite Bond film); Roger Moore was the Bond of the 70s and early-80s, a quasi-pastiche of the Connery-Bond and a stark contrast to Ian Fleming’s literary creation; Timothy Dalton returned to the Bond of Fleming’s books (or the closest cinematic approximation for the time) and was a stark contrast to the Moore-Bond; Pierce Brosnan initially showed promise in Goldeneye, but was beset with a series unsure of itself and losing its footing with the movie-going public.

Because of that wide variety of Bondian interpretation, there may not appear to be a “continuity,” in the truest sense of the word, to the Bond films. But, lets dig a little deeper.  First, there are three (primary) instances in which the filmmakers attempted to needle the thread of continuity.

1.) In the first two films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Bond had a sort-of-regular girlfriend, Sylvia Trench, to whom Connery first uttered the iconic “Bond, James Bond,” in response to Sylvia’s own introduction as “Trench, Sylvia Trench.” Their relationship was short-lived, as Sylvia was cast aside in subsequent films for the “Bond Girl” component in Goldfinger.

2.)  In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (or, OHMSS), James Bond becomes a married man. As the happy couple drives away, an injured Blofeld attacks the car and Bond’s wife, Teresa, is killed. In Diamonds Are Forever, the 1971 follow-up to OHMSS, Sean Connery returns to the Bond role, and while he pursues Blofeld in the pre-credit sequence, Bond’s motive seems less revenge for the events of OHMSS than the continued pursuit of an escaped Blofeld following the events of You Only Live Twice; the Bond producers simply pretended that OHMSS never happened and got on with their series.

Teresa is mentioned in Roger Moore’s third outing as Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me, and in his fifth, For Your Eyes Only. In that film’s pre-credit sequence, Bond visits Teresa’s grave and boards a booby-trapped helicopter. Bond disables the ‘copter and uses it to drop a wheelchair-bound, white-cat petting mystery villain–presumably an unnamed Blofeld (by that point, the rights to the Blofeld character were not in the hands of Eon Productions, resulting in 1983’s non-canon remake of 1965’s Thunderball, Never Say Never Again)– into a smoke-stack.

Teresa is again mentioned, though not by name, in 1989’s Licence to Kill (which we’ll cover in a second) and in two of Pierce Brosnan’s outings, Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough.

It should be noted that in all instances of Teresa’s mention or reference, the writers of the films use her as a means of peeling back the layers of Bond’s character (For Your Eyes Only was the first–and only–time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that Teresa was mentioned by name or had a story sequence dedicated to her). It’s possible that, since Casino Royale and the death of Vesper Lynd apparently never happened in this continuity, that producers were substituting Teresa (who also married Bond in the Fleming books) for Vesper as the defining tragedy of the cinematic Bond’s life.

3.) In 1989’s Licence to Kill, Timothy Dalton’s Bond goes on a revenge crusade after his friend, CIA-turned-DEA-Agent Felix Leiter, played by David Hedison, is mutilated by a drug lord’s pet shark; Hedison played Leiter in 1973’s Live and Let Die, making him the only actor to portray Leiter twice (prior to Jeffrey Wright in the Craig films) and creating something of a continuity with the earlier–and tonally different (a vast understatement)–Moore films.

This final instance of Bond-continuity demonstrates an interesting point: the tonal and era-spanning differences of Bond continuity can be viewed as continuing adventures if you employ a Marvel Universe continuity trick (Captain America was in the ice for twenty years; thirty years; seventy years): the sliding time scale. You can superimpose each actor onto each adventure if you mentally adjust the tone and time period of each film; the stories stay the same, the look is different.

A final bit of Bond continuity trivia: according to Die Another Day director Lee Tamahori, the film was supposed to include the revelation that “James Bond” was a code name for different agents over the decades; this would have made Lazenby’s fourth-wall breaking in OHMSS more than a fun little joke. It was considered a way to rectify the continuity of the series between decades and actors. Fortunately, the idea (and subsequent cameo appearances by all Bonds) was scrapped.  And with that film, perhaps mercifully by that point, the first Bond “continuity” came to an end.

BLUNT INSTRUMENT CONTINUITY

In 2006, Daniel Craig made his debut in the best Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale. The film was promoted as a reboot of the entire Bond series and promised to reveal how “James became Bond.”

Unlike the previous Bond continuity, which were episodic adventure stories (the Bond character was left largely unchanged at the end of each adventure–excepting, again, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service–and ready to report for duty and save the world in the next film), Craig’s first two Bonds, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are serialized character-driven adventures, with Quantum of Solace picking up minutes after the (brilliant) ending of Casino Royale, and Bond hunting down the organization, Quantum, responsible for turning the love of his life, Vesper Lynd in this continuity,  into “the bitch is dead.” In those two films, Craig’s Bond went from “blunt instrument,” according to Judi Dench’s M (a totally different character from her Brosnan-era performances), to BOND.

Dench functioned as a transition between previous continuity and new continuity. That transition reached its conclusion in 2012’s Skyfall, the symbolic cinematic building of a new continuity and final torch-passing: the modern glass office of Dench’s M (whose backstory is responsible for the events of the film) is first destroyed, then, following the events of the film, is replaced by the original, Bernard Lee-M leather and cigar office of Ralph Fiennes’s new M. With Skyfall, the pieces of Bond classicism have returned: Moneypenny, Q; if Craig’s first two films were a deconstruction of Bond, Skyfall was a reconstruction of the mythology.

Now, here comes the fun question: since we’ve brought Bond back to the original “M” office with all of the essential Bondian web of characters in place, will the Craig continuity cease to be a “new continuity” and instead be part of the original, “Pencil” continuity? Will all of the original cinematic Bond adventures once again become canon, though with a different spin since the events of Casino Royale most certainly happened? Are we now looking at less a Batman Begins-style reboot and more a Star Trek-reboot (minus the black holesm, prime Spocks and Khan-but-not-Khan-for-reals shenanigans)? Or will there be another reboot with another Bond when Craig’s contract is up after two more films? It’s anyone’s guess, and the only people who potentially know are in the process of making the 24th installment of the series.

Whatever the approach, Craig’s Bond is of an era of fan discussion and dissemination, an era where fan communities can build wikis to examine and display their expertise in continuity.   That said, pardon me a moment of cinematic nostalgia in this conclusion.  The new M’s office is a throwback, a classic; so too should the Bond films be. I want them to maintain their individual charm, a dependable cinematic adventure, without buying into the fashion of the day. We need a relic of the past, fitted with all of the technology of the present, a constant genre, a constant character, that we can come back to, a world of adventure and action, where we can be guaranteed a good time without scratching our heads every five minutes, to remind us that in some cases, too much of anything, including continuity, is still too much.

Next month, we’re going to examine the current epitome of too much continuity, with all of its plusses and pitfalls: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. See you next time.

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