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James Bond Will Return

Reviewed by Aditya Mani Jha

Published : Saturday, 1 June, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1033

James Bond Will Return

James Bond Will Return

A recent anthology James Bond Will Return: Critical Perspectives on the 007 Franchise, which offers new ways to view the 007 films, is a wonderful read ahead of Ian Flemings birthday on May 28…

One of my favourite James Bond sequences in recent times is the interrogation scene from Sam Mendes Skyfall (2012). The films antagonist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is being questioned by M (Judi Dench), the still-formidable head of MI6. Silva holds a grudge against M because when he was an active MI6 agent in Hong Kong under her command, she betrayed him and gave him up to the Chinese government who then tortured him horribly. Even when I had watched this scene in the theatre for the first time, it struck me that the dynamic between M and Silva was intended as a nod to Mary Shelleys Frankenstein. The name of the film itself is the name of the Scottish castle Bond grew up in - a classically Gothic setting, it has to be said.

This parallel between the film and Shelleys novel is the cornerstone of Monica Germanàs excellent essay Sometimes the Old Ways Are the Best: Technology and the Body in a Gothic Reading of Sam Mendes Skyfall. The essay is a part of the recently published collection James Bond Will Return: Critical Perspectives on the 007 Franchise, edited by Claire Hines, Terence McSweeney and Stuart Joy. This wide-ranging collection goes through the 007 canon in chronological order, starting with an essay about the first Bond film (Dr No, 1962) and ending with an essay about the most recent one (No Time to Die, 2021).

Clash between old and new
As Germanà notes in her essay, the Frankenstein parallels also work very well with the films other overarching concern: the clash between "the old ways" of spycraft and warfare vs the new ways (hacking, electronic surveillance). In the face of a technologically astute supervillain like Silva, Bond ecedes into a kind of defensive Luddism, abandoning the gadgetry that contemporary Bond fans would be used to. He even goes back to the Sean Connery-era classic Aston Martin, even as M turns up her nose at this ostentatious relic of a car. In the climax of the movie, as Silva uses his tech-wizardry in his relentless pursuit of M, Bond eventually kills his adversary with an old-school hunting knife. The essays are enjoyable not just because of the depth of the analysis but also for the way they bring together visual, textual and design elements in their readings of the 007 films.

Here, for example, is Germanà noting the visual resemblance between Silva and the real-life hacker Julian Assange, especially their blonde hair.

"Seen as a reaction to MI6s merciless exploitation of its own agents, Silvas cyber-attack points to the subversive politics of data hacking, a fact underscored by Silvas alleged resemblance with WikiLeaks hacker Julian Assange. As illegal code-cracking juxtaposes formal institutions... which were previously able to dominate access to information and... dissidents, who, with growing confidence, are able to circumvent traditional networks through technology, the film traces a fine line, arguably, between rebellious hackers and cyberterrorists."

The editors have done a fine job in balancing the theory-heavy essays with other entries that are more focused on the praxis and politics around filmmaking. The Bond franchise itself, based on Ian Flemings novels, is a kind of convoluted metonym for Britishness, but the business of filmmaking is rooted in Hollywood ethos - the resultant narrative tension is apparent in the films (especially in the 21st century when the scale of Hollywood means that producers are looking for ankable stories). The British vs American clash of values is partly responsible for some of the franchises notable misfires, like Spectre (2015). James Smiths essay Its Always Been Me: Spectrality, Hauntings and Retcon in Spectre expertly dissects some of the films narrative confusions and failures. Retcon or etroactive continuity is a term originating in the comicbook industry, used to describe a situation where writers on a long-running media franchise change previously-established truths or realities, thus overwriting the works of their predecessors.

Why Spectre misfired
Spectres retcon is clumsily done not just in terms of scale - every previous villain in the Bond era being revealed to be pawns of the same organisation - but also in terms of tenor. The overall direction of the Daniel Craig-era movies involved a resetting of 007s more problematic gender-related and geopolitical themes. Spectre seems to want to undo that whole bloc of stories, but its execution is frequently subpar.

As Smith writes, "The retcon is illustrated for the audience in other ham-fisted ways: Blofeld takes the trouble to decorate the ruins of MI6s headquarters with A4 printout photos of Bonds deceased friends and foes, unfortunately giving the sense more of a site-specific art project than some terrible act of revenge. His attempts to zombify Bond meanwhile prove strangely ineffective, Bond jumping to his feet little the worse for wear even after having a hole drilled through his brain."

Claire Hines, one of the editors of the book, is similarly astute in her own essay, a study of costumes and gender performance in Octopussy (1983), one of the most visually interesting films of the Roger Moore era. I also enjoyed Stuart Joys study of vendetta themes in For Your Eyes Only (1981). For fans of the Bond franchise, James Bond Will Return is a must-read. For everybody else, it presents an intriguing starting point into Bond-lore.

Courtesy: THE HINDU

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