ASIDE FROM THEIR RATHER UNFORTUNATE resemblance to Austin Powers in Goldmember, one thing that’s puzzling about the two most recent Daniel Craig-starring Bonds – Skyfall and Spectre – is the inconsistent way in which they attempt to revive the canon of the old Bonds.
From 1962’s Dr. No to 2002’s Die Another Day, the twenty James Bond films existed in the same loose, yet mostly consistent, continuity; the understanding was that GoldenEye‘s opening scene took place during Timothy Dalton’s tenure in 1986, and this didn’t cause any conflict since both actors were still portraying the same character. Similarly, each of George Lazenby’s successors had scenes alluding, explicitly or implicitly, to Tracy Bond, the wife he loses at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever, Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only, Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill, and Pierce Brosnan in The World is Not Enough (potentially in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies also). However, in 2006, someone at Eon decided to take a cue from Batman Begins and give the series a gritty reboot, modernising certain elements and retelling the character’s origin to keep him in line with the times*; thus, the four-film arc that Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall & Spectre together constitute is to be understood as a standalone timeline, that has no direct story connection with the 1962-2002 series of films.
Or not. While Casino Royale & Quantum have a hard-boiled, mostly humourless approach informed by the Bourne series, Skyfall and especially Spectre evidence a yearning for the grandiosity of the 60s Bond, even suggesting confusingly that the old continuity isn’t completely uncanonical, referencing Goldfinger‘s DB5 and GoldenEye‘s exploding pen. Possibly the world depicted in the old films is canonical to the new ones, i.e. spycraft really was sillier back in the day, but their specific stories clearly are not, since we know that neither Bond, nor Moneypenny, nor Felix Leiter nor Blofeld were around back then. A main thematic strand of Skyfall/Spectre, similarly to GoldenEye, has to do with whether Bond, an old agent with old ideals, is still relevant in the modern world. This is hard to take when Casino & Quantum‘s main thematic strand is that Bond is a hotheaded rookie, not yet made cynical by years of experience. Following The Dark Knight Trilogy (&, coincidentally, the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, in which all but the first & final battles of the Clone Wars take place offscreen between the 2nd & 3rd entries), we seem to have missed out on seeing our hero in his Golden Age of heroism, when he was hampered by neither inexperience nor age.
Those who are dissatisfied with The Dark Knight or Star Wars can rectify the problem with some quite excellent animations (For The Dark Knight, Batman: Gotham Knight; for Star Wars, Star Wars: Clone Wars and the similarly-named Star Wars: The Clone Wars), and Bond fans, if they please, can treat the videogames as canon. Four games have been made during the Daniel Craig era: 007: Quantum of Solace is a mostly straightforward adaptation of that film which also includes flashback levels covering the plot of Casino Royale; James Bond 007: Blood Stone has an original story by Bruce Feirstein, who wrote Tomorrow Never Dies and co-wrote GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough; GoldenEye 007: Reloaded is a remake of the Nintendo 64 classic GoldenEye 007, with its story updated to Craig’s reboot era; finally, 007 Legends presents one adventure each from Craig’s five predecessors, remade to star Daniel Craig and told in the style of his films: Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Licence to Kill, Die Another Day, and Moonraker**.
The gameplay of these four, unlike past classics such as GoldenEye 007 or 007: Everything or Nothing ranges from average (007: Quantum of Solace) to terrible (007 Legends), but they are recommended to truly hardcore fans on the sole basis that they fix the apparent gap between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. James Bond 007: Blood Stone, the best-written one, features a James Bond who is transitioning from the angry young man of Craig’s first two films to a character with more of the smoothness associated with the classical Connery/Moore/Brosnan depictions. After that, with GoldenEye 007: Reloaded, we get to see the modern James Bond living out a properly classic adventure and then, in 007 Legends, five more!
If James Bond lived out seven full-scale adventures between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, then it easily accounts for him being presented as a haggard old warhorse in the latter. Remember, other action heroes have been presented as past-it old men when they’ve had only three on-screen adventures to their name (John McClane in Live Free or Die Hard; John Rambo in Rambo; Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), or in poor old Batman’s case, only two in The Dark Knight Rises. Aside from patching plot holes, treating these games as canon also makes Skyfall ring much truer in a thematic sense. If GoldenEye, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, especially, “happened” to Craig’s Bond then the bombastic feel that Skyfall tries to recapture already has some historical presence in this new universe; it contains, or used to contain, more than just the drab cynicism of Casino/Quantum.
However, while James Bond 007: Blood Stone & GoldenEye 007: Reloaded present no conflict with what’s shown in the actual films, 007 Legends is a little trickier. While it correctly uses the likeness of Daniel Craig’s Bond, Judi Dench’s M, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Rory Kinnear’s Tanner in those rôles, someone seems to have forgotten that Jeffrey Wright appeared in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as Felix Leiter, as the Goldfinger missions use a character model based on Cec Linder – this is typical of the laziness with which 007 Legends is put together. Even taking into account that videogame models don’t always capture perfectly the features of the people they’re based on – try to work out who’s meant to be Connery, Lazenby, Moore or Dalton in this screenshot from GoldenEye 007! – and that the Bond series is renowned for changing the actors of almost all its recurring rôles, it’s still hard to square Linder’s whiteness with Wright’s blackness, and clearly the films take precedence here in determining what Felix truly looks like.
There are also other problems: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features an encounter with Ernst Stavro Blofeld, which was absolutely fine and actually quite cool until Spectre came out, confirming that such a meeting was impossible. Until the Blofeld rights mess was disentangled in 2013, this would have been the only way such a meeting could have been possible. In any case the character model used here, a rather pleasing compromise between the Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas portrayals, nicely closes the plot hole of his missing facial scar from You Only Live Twice, while opening a plot hole regarding whether he looks like Telly Pleasance, or Christoph Waltz, and whether or not he’s bald). Also, if Bond lost his wife in the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you’d think that tragedy would be greater than, or at least equal to, his losing Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, yet it is never mentioned in Spectre. One suspects, in any case, that Madeleine Swann is being set up as a new version of Tracy Bond; her only decent chance of surviving Bond 25 will be if the producers completely ignore the previous story.
Well, it’d be nice to think that 007 Legends added something decent to the Bond canon. Its version of Licence to Kill skips the part where Bond punches M and continues his adventure as a rogue agent; in real life this behaviour would likely have seen Bond spend the rest of his life in Guantanamo Bay, and he certainly wouldn’t have been reinstated as a 00. So in some ways it actually improves on the films on which it’s based. Perhaps there is a place for it in canon; its set-up, borrowed from Hitman: Contracts, sees Bond flashing back to previous adventures while he lingers in the grey area between life and death, at the start of Skyfall when he’s shot and in the water. So maybe his delirious mind for some reason misremembered the real face of Felix, but Blofeld still presents a probably intractable problem. This is a shame as, before the release of Spectre, it really did enrich Skyfall as a viewing experience.
I’m sure many would say that we oughtn’t to be taking something as ephemeral as continuity in Bond, of all places, so seriously. But where’s the fun it not taking things seriously?
*Uncoincidentally, both Batman Begins and Casino Royale follow a film so hideously camp that a complete reboot of the franchise was deemed to be necessary damage control: Batman & Robin and Die Another Day, respectively.
**Skyfall was made available as DLC after its release; Spectre still lacks a videogame adaptation. Unless this situation is rectified ten years down the line, as 007 Legends did for Die Another Day, it will be the first Bond film since 1983’s Octopussy to lack a videogame adaptation.