Years ago, comic book companies realized that having 50+ years of comic history was a deterrent for getting new fans. A new reader had literally a decade of work to catch up on if they really wanted to understand why it is so important that Green Goblin’s fifth bastard child was such a menace to Spider-Man. So comic companies did something a little brave and created new universes that were essentially updated reboots of their best characters.
They started their characters over but they kept them in modern times. And since we are no longer in Cold War America, we can update the jobs, the politics and dynamics of these characters for today’s readers. Housewives are now media stars, test pilots are now extreme sports athletes and scientists are still scientists because they will always be cool.
When comics started doing this, their fans were pretty hostile. They liked that there is so much history. They like that new readers need to do their homework. They were also defensive of the past and change is scary damn it. To the fans’ horror though, these modern reboots were terribly successful. People who could give a rat’s ass about Spider-Man suddenly sympathized with a kid who was having a ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ kind of life. They could relate to him because they got to see him tick in a way they could relate to.
Which is what makes ‘Casino Royale’ such a great Bond movie. The movie is set in modern times and Bond has just gotten his license to kill. M isn’t sure he’s cut out for it and Bond himself is a little pessimistic that he can’t do the job. It occurred to me that even though Bond has over thirty years of movie history, he’s never had a real origin story.
The other thing that makes ‘Casino Royale’ great is this is the first time we have a story that’s less about giant lasers and more about the character development of Bond. He’s human in this movie, with a lot of traits we associate as his good points now viewed as the flaws they really are. He’s a killer, he’s arrogant and his witty quips all come from a very dark place. This movie is about the toll it takes to be James Bond, told in a way that is more of a tragedy and less of a therapy session. There is a lot of humor in the movie but underlying it all is the sense that being the world’s greatest secret agent is really a bitch at the end of the day.
I do wonder if the fans can take it though. There was something great about the Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Bronsan period in that Bond was more of a myth than a person. He could do anything, fuck any woman and the only tragedy was when a minor character who’s name you have already forgotten gets killed by the bad guy and his peculiar henchman. I loved those stories, and quite a few of my stories were inspired by the audacity inherent in those movies but I can’t help but feel that we have already seen the greatest stories of that kind of Bond. GoldenEye and Goldfinger already gave us the biggest over top stories possible in this genre to the point that when you watch them, they are almost parodies of themselves.
So in closing, change is good. Embrace ‘Casino Royale’ not only because it’s a great movie on it’s own, but embrace it because we have a new way to enjoy James Bond.