The trick with any franchise character is that, after a while, they can take the path* of becoming less a character and more a collection of quirks and ticks that become recognizable to the audience, but there's not really much of anything there behind the catchphrases, costume, etc... It's pretty common in sitcoms. And you can sort of tell when a character (or, heck, public persona of a real person) has hit this point when they become readily satirized and spoofed with a few tell-tale signs.
I think, in a lot of ways, Bond had become a sort of nebulous concept of "things that happen in a Bond movie". Particularly during the tail end of the Moore-era and again in the Pierce Brosnan era, you can blame the actors to some extent, but the scripts and directing never sought to do much but move the Bond-shaped character through Bond-like situations that were pretty awesome when Connery brought it to the big screen, but by the time I was watching Pierce Brosnan driving around in a tank in a tux with perfect hair, I think I hung it up on Bond after GoldenEye.**
I'm not reporting anything new in remarking that Daniel Craig in Casino Royale completely rejuvenated the Bond concept for a lot of us, and despite many missteps that harkened back to the doldrums of circa 1980-era Bond, Quantum of Solace had its moments - even if it didn't live up to the promise of Casino Royale.
The series took a few years to figure out what it wanted to be and returned on the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise, and I can say - despite its flaws, I was a fan of Skyfall (2012). And I sort of knew I was in from the pre-credits sequence, and then the Adele-sung credits sequence which was really pretty terrific
The promise of the Bond we saw in Casino Royale makes a re-appearance here, and takes center stage. Yes, we still have exotic locales, great cars, absolutely terrific chase scenes and all-new levels of havoc in London itself, but the throughline is much more about who Bond is as a character. Like all great superheroes, this movie pits Bond against his dark reflection rather than just some cracked billionaire with henchmen and a goofy plot for economic domination of some sort (see: Quantum of Solace). They clearly can't keep going back to the well on this one, but for this third installment, it works quite well - showing Bond how you can go off the tracks and why, all the while playing Bond off the terrific Judy Dench as M. And I was pleased with Javier Bardem's take on his character, making a Bond villain memorable for reasons other than some oddball behavior, undersea base or white kitty.
We still don't have all the blanks filled in when it comes to Bond, but we actually think of him as someone with a life between films here, or a life before he put on the tux and a life he'll have after he hands in his Double-0 status. It's a new thing not to just think of Bond as a guy who sort of winks at the camera as some woman far too good looking for an aging Roger Moore exclaims "Oh, James..!" from behind a cabana door.
The movie will be remembered as a bridge of sorts as it seems to want to connect some of the better ideas of the old Bond franchise films with the modern take on the character, and I think that's appropriate and welcome.
Mostly, everyone turns in solid performances, and the script - while nothing entirely new, exactly, is new in the Bond world. The challenge will be: what next?
The script makes note of the fact that Daniel Craig, while one handsome devil and clearly in better shape than 99% of us, is not a kid. You can read into the aging, used up resource comparisons what you will whether they're discussing Bond the character on screen, Bond the concept, what Bond does for a living, or the English Empire itself as maybe a bit weather worn and not what it used to be, but still damn good at what it does.
I don't want to spoil a new movie, still in theaters, but it's a good winter movie with which to take your Old Man when he's in town and you've already had turkey and watched all the football you feel like watching.
I think. I've never read the Bond novels, and I'm nota die-hard Bond-nut. I'd love to hear what you thought.
*there are also franchise characters who get so steeped in their own mythology that the charm that was there in the first appearances gets lost in the heaps and heaps of timeline as the franchise feeds the audience demand and become impenetrable. See: superhero comics and the Star Wars expanded universe
**not true. I saw the one with Michelle Yeoh because: Michelle Yeoh. However, it was dumb.