James Bond, super-spy 007 and protagonist in the 2nd-largest grossing movie-franchise ever, returns in Skyfall, the 23rd Bond movie in forty years. When Dr. No came out in 1962, Bond was unique, and the franchise hit its stride in 1964 with the stylish and imaginative Goldfinger. American movies heroes came out of the “noble savage” literary tradition: the gunfighter of the American Western and the Gangster-movie gumshoe detective were plain-spoken, rough-edged, and working class. Bond was sophisticated to the point of snobby (note his put down of the Beatles in Goldfinger), formal in his dress, subtle in his wordplay, and practiced in the exotic—from martial arts to Baccarat. Bond-movie gadgets and pyrotechnics advanced the state of the art for action films.
But it isn’t 1964 anymore. Movie franchises like Indiana Jones and Transformers surpass Bond-movie action; The Matrix movies have more stylish violence; Harry Potter and Spiderman have better gadgets and more imaginative villains. The Bond-movie plot is now as predictable as Bond’s womanizing is sexist. Even with a woman boss (Judy Dench) and a more buff, edgier James Bond (Daniel Craig), Bond has not made it into the 21st Century. Skyfall will generate respectable box office because Baby Boomers still buy movie tickets. But the Boomers are aging and the young aren’t paying attention. Maybe 007 will continue to save the world every two years, but few under 40 will notice. Whatever hero does eventually come along to replace this suave, cold war anachronism will need to leave young people not merely shaken, but stirred. // Michael Adelberg