It takes a lot for a film series to survive for over half a century. “Franchise fatigue” is the buzzword for superhero movies that are a decade old. So far Star Wars has stood the test of time, but it also took some breaks in between trilogies. Other films have a good run with a sequel or two and then get rebooted in a few years, and rebooted again a few years after that. Meanwhile, the James Bond film franchise has not only survived since 1962 — it’s thrived.
One of the reasons the franchise has done so well over 56 years is that it has found a balance between following a formula and coming up with new material. There’s a lot that could be said about what components keep audiences coming back for more, from the locations to the gadgets, but I want to talk about just one: Bond himself.
Specifically, the first time a new actor playing Bond is seen on screen and how this sets the tone for the film. These moments are vital to the film’s success and, depending on how they go, can potentially set an actor up to change the character forever. There’s a lot to be learned from these introductions to the character, so without further ado, let’s get into it.
Introduction 1: Make him as cool as can be.
The most famous of these introductions is undoubtedly Sean Connery‘s introduction as Bond in Dr. No. Even those who have never seen Dr. No can likely recognize parts of this scene. There’s the baccarat game, the Bond girl, and the famous words “Bond, James Bond.”
The camerawork in this scene keeps Bond’s face off-screen until the moment when he says his name, lights his cigarette, and the iconic theme music kicks in. Withholding the view of Bond’s face builds anticipation for his reveal when he responds to Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) asking for his name. For audiences, just seeing him feels like a reward. Add in Connery’s suave delivery of the line and it’s impossible to not be charmed and intrigued by the character right away. This scene also set up a few tropes for the rest of the franchise to follow. In one way or another, every new actor to play Bond has his introduction set up as a call-back to, or reaction against, Connery’s introduction.
Introduction 2: Change things up.
The first reaction against Connery comes from George Lazenby, who took over the role in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There are still some familiar elements in the OHMSS opening, like the music, the cigarette, and withholding Bond’s face until the right moment to reveal it. But these are out of order compared to Dr. No.
The film opens with the familiar faces of M (Bernard Lee) and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) looking for 007. It then cuts to a man driving with the theme music playing. Without showing who he is, audiences can put two and two together and figure out the man at the wheel is James Bond. But this isn’t Bond like they’ve seen him before. This is a new actor, and the change wouldn’t go unnoticed by fans. Although OHMSS has become more highly regarded over the years, at the time of its release, the reception wasn’t too positive.
Lazenby’s Bond uses the same way of introducing himself to Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) in the opening scene with the line “Bond, James Bond.” But Connery’s suaveness is replaced by Lazenby’s cheerfulness, and while change can be good, this difference is somewhat jarring to experience. This tone does work for the film as a whole, though. In a natural environment and with a personable manner, Lazenby’s Bond comes across as more of an everyman than Connery’s. In OHMSS, Bond is shown at his most vulnerable when he falls for Tracy, marries her, and then watches as she’s killed right in front of him. He’s a more human and relatable Bond than the ultra-cool Connery. Some fans love this and some don’t, but for better or worse, OHMSS effectively sets itself apart from the previous films and does so right from the cold open.
Introduction 3: But don’t change that much.
The changes made in OHMSS showed the franchise’s willingness to evolve and shake up ideas of who Bond is. But at the time, fans and critics didn’t love this. After Lazenby declined to return to the role and Connery made his last official (more on that later) outing as Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, it was time to cast a new actor. Enter Roger Moore in 1973 with Live and Let Die.
There’s no tricky camerawork to keep Moore’s face a surprise, but the scene has other familiar elements. Bond is shown in bed with Miss Caruso (Madeline Smith), recalling the seductive charms of Connery rather than Lazenby’s opening scene where Tracy leaves Bond on the beach alone. Additionally, the return of M and Moneypenny are a reminder that this is still the same film series with the same characters that audiences have grown accustomed to. Bond also has the same rapport with each of them as he has previously. He shares some back and forth quips with M and has a few flirtatious exchanges with Moneypenny.
While the dynamics between Bond, M, and Moneypenny are familiar, the location is not. Neither character has been shown going to Bond’s house before and this scene is the most that Bond’s house has been seen on screen in any of the movies. But even these changes may be familiar to Bond fans. In the book series by Ian Fleming, he often gave exhaustively in-depth descriptions of the details of Bond’s life, such as the minute details of his dining experiences. When some criticized this as being unnecessary to the plot, Fleming asserted it was what fans wanted. He apparently maintained a belief that they added depth to Bond’s personality and that readers were delighted by this. How much this is true would depend on the individual reader, but nevertheless, Fleming believed that Bond fans wanted information about Bond as a person, not just a spy. While Live and Let Die broke with film tradition by showing Bond at home and even devoting a fair amount of screen time to his modern espresso machine, this is in line with Fleming’s books and devoted Bond fans can pick up on this.
Introduction 4: Reintroduce him.
Officially, Connery’s tenure as Bond ended with Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. Unofficially, he returned for Never Say Never Again in 1983. The generally accepted list of official Bond films are the 24 (so far) produced by Eon Productions. Never Say Never Again is the result of a lawsuit between screenwriter Kevin McClory and Ian Fleming over McClory’s involvement with a screenplay that became the basis for Fleming’s novel “Thunderball.” Fleming didn’t give McClory credit in the novel, and so he took Fleming to court for a breach of copyright. He ended up winning rights to the story and was credited as a producer for the film Thunderball. Eon made a deal with McClory that after Thunderball was released, McClory couldn’t make a version of the story for ten years. After these ten years were up, McClory brought his story to producer Jack Schwartzman with the intent of making their own adaptation. This became Never Say Never Again.
The title came from a suggestion from Connery’s wife Micheline as a joke after Connery had said he would “never again” play 007 after Diamonds. There are some obvious changes to this opening, such as the theme song playing over the opening scene rather than having a separate credit sequence. But there’s also the reintroduction of Connery, and this familiarity goes a long way. Although the film would go on to confront ideas about an aging Bond when he is ordered to go to a health clinic and get back in shape, this opening scene is more about Bond’s athleticism and capability. It showcases that despite the passage of time, Bond is still a damn good spy. At the end of the scene, it’s revealed that Bond running through the jungle and breaking into a building has been part of a training exercise, but up to this twist, everything looks pretty real.
Seeing Connery, the original Bond, on what appears to be a mission, for the first time in 12 years provokes feelings of nostalgia for a previous era. Although Never Say Never Again isn’t Eon official, it would be difficult to disregard this movie from a list of Bond films because of the familiarity that Connery brings to the role. Even though supporting roles are cast with other actors, the opening credits are different, and there isn’t the Bond theme music, the most important thing is Bond himself, and he’s still there.
Introduction 5: Find a new direction.
Connery’s run as Bond (official or not) ended in 1983, but Moore was still going at that point. The same year Never Say Never Again came out, so did Octopussy, and two years later, Moore’s final film, A View To A Kill was released. Although Moore began by evoking the familiar suave charms of Connery, the tone of his films became increasingly campy and comedic. This aspect of the Moore era is somewhat polarizing, and though I personally love it, it’s also clear that the franchise couldn’t keep this up forever. This necessary change came in the form of Timothy Dalton in 1987’s The Living Daylights.
In an opposite situation to Never Say Never Again, The Living Daylights begins by informing the audience that the upcoming scene is part of a training mission, but this mission ends up being more real than anyone had anticipated. Once Bond and two other 00 agents parachute onto the training ground, they begin to be hunted by a mysterious assassin.
In the set up, though, the stakes of this scene appear to be relatively low. It could be compared to the opening scene in 1963’s From Russia With Love, which shows SPECTRE agents training, but unlike MI6 they use human targets. Here, the agents are using paintball guns with bright pink paint to shoot their targets. This isn’t exactly comedic or played for laughs, but there’s a levity to the sight of 00 agents covered in pink paint that lightens the tone. This could potentially recall the tone of the previous Moore films which were at times downright silly. But this tone shifts completely when it’s revealed that there’s a real assassin and the agents’ lives are really on the line.
After the other two have been killed, the camera reveals Dalton’s Bond for the first time in a dramatic zooming close up. He doesn’t need to say who is he — at this point, the trend of revealing Bond is so well understood that the camerawork tells the audience everything they need to know. This scene gives Bond the opportunity to prove himself as being the most capable of the three spies. It also allows the movie to demonstrate how this era was going to be serious in a way the previous one wasn’t. The film takes the familiarity of a light in tone, low stakes scenario and changes it to represent the evolution that the franchise was undergoing.
Introduction 6: Adapt to the times.
The Dalton era was more serious than the previous films, but it only lasted two years. In 1989 Licence to Kill came out, and then there was a six-year break until the next Bond movie because MGM was caught up in some legal disputes. In 1995, finally, Pierce Brosnan took over as Bond and GoldenEye was released.
The film opens with Bond breaking into a Soviet chemical weapons facility. As has been seen in every introduction besides Live and Let Die, Bond’s face is withheld from the camera’s view until an important moment to create anticipation. When Bond breaks in, he gets into the facility through the bathroom. He lowers from the ceiling into a stall occupied by a Soviet guard and in the moment where his face is revealed he is hanging upside down. He then quips to the guard “beg your pardon, forgot to knock” before knocking him out. This shift, from an opening that emphasizes the stealth of Bond in a serious manner, to a comedic one-liner, is in a way a condensed version of the Brosnan films. These films take a little bit of all the previous eras and mix them together. He can be suave and serious, but also somewhat comedic, and these changes can happen quite quickly. To some, these tone shifts can be disorienting, but to others they’re an enjoyable reminder of the ways the Bond franchise has evolved.
GoldenEye was also tasked with the difficult job of catching up with history. Since the last film, the Berlin Wall had come down and the franchise needed to adapt its Cold War storylines to suit the modern world. The opening scene of the film takes place in 1986 in the Soviet Union (fun fact: 1986 was also the year Pierce Brosnan would have taken over the role of 007 had he not been under contract with Remington Steele). The opening credits include Soviet imagery as a way to catch up on what’s happened historically, and after the credits, the film jumps to the present. Although issues concerning the Soviet Union are part of GoldenEye, these are updated from previous films to suit the politic climate of 1995. As M, portrayed by Judi Dench, tells Bond later in the film, he’s a “relic of the Cold War” and he must adapt to the new world around him.
Introduction 7: Make him earn it.
Brosnan started strong by navigating between the serious and comedic tones of the franchise, but by the end of his tenure, Bond had become a bit of a disaster. His final film was 2002’s Die Another Day; the movie often cited as the worst of the franchise. A change — and a big one at that — was necessary if Bond was to become successful again. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened with Daniel Craig and Casino Royale in 2006.
Casino Royale somewhat reboots the franchise, but not entirely. There are familiar aspects such as the return of Judi Dench as M, but the film also shows the origin of how Bond became 007. The best way to understand Bond’s introduction in Casino Royale is to compare it to Dr. No. Although the novel “Casino Royale” was the first by Fleming about Bond, “Dr. No” was chosen by Eon as the first book to adapt, so in the movie, Bond is already established as a working 00 agent. The opening of Casino Royale is in black and white and, as Dr. No was made in in 1962, at a time when color film was becoming increasingly popular, this scene gives the film a sense of originality that extends back to even before Connery played Bond.
In Casino Royale, it isn’t until the last scene that Craig delivers the famous words, “the name’s Bond, James Bond” for the first time while the theme music kicks in. This recalls the image of Sean Connery’s introduction, and this comparison emphasizes the fact that it has taken an entire film documenting the full origin story for Craig’s Bond to become the spy he is. He goes through the grueling events of Casino Royale as a way to earn his introduction.
At the end of the day, what makes a Bond film a Bond film isn’t its tone, or its take on history, or even the quality of the movie (though that doesn’t mean I want another Die Another Day anytime soon). What makes Bond Bond is the man himself. He can be played by different actors in different ways, but the character is still the same, and he’s still the most important and familiar aspect of the franchise. And in case any fans ever forget this, there will always be another Bond movie around the corner eager to (re)introduce us to him again.
Related Topics: Filmmaking, History, James Bond