Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Hollywood Can Learn from James Bond

Yesterday, I got Skyall on Blu Ray.  Not only was it still a magnificent motion picture, but it got me thinking about the reasoning as to why Hollywood always see the need to reboot whenever the creative hands of a franchise property, such as Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man, changes.  Over 50 years, James Bond has changed many hands, with six different actors having portrayed 007, as well as numerous writers and directors coming in-and-out of the franchise, with each actor and creative team bringing a different tone and feel to the Bond franchise, simply telling a new adventure involving Bond.  In hindsight, there are really no two Bond films exactly alike for this reason, and yet that allows for each viewer to have their own Bond without having to wade through the same origin story over and over again.  While this neverending approach to James Bond may keep the Bond films from ever having a definitive beginning, middle, and end, when you're dealing with superheroes or adventurous secret agents, why do we need a beginning, middle, and end?

What is kind of perplexing about Hollywood nowadays is that every single time the studios want to make a new installment of any superhero franchise with a different actor and creative team, they don't just continue on the story, they feel the need to restart, or reboot, as you will.  They retell the origin story and recreate the beginning, even if it's already been told exceedingly well before.  I loved last Summer's The Amazing Spider-Man, but honestly, was it a necessity to retell the origin story of Spider-Man when it had already been told to near perfection in Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man?  I love both interpretations, but I think The Amazing Spider-Man could have been just as successful, if not more, if it simply just told a new story involving Peter Parker as Spider-Man, rather than having to reshow us the same events over and over again.   Part of this recent trend with rebooting and restarting film franchises was created by the success of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight trilogy.

With Batman Begins, Nolan gave the beginning, and with last Summer's The Dark Knight Rises, he wanted to give an ending to his Batman.  While this led to a trio of films that are all interconnected and tell one large story, it means that Batman will be rebooted again, with another creative team retelling the origin story, seeing as how Bruce Wayne gave up the cape and cowl at the end of Nolan's tenure.  While I do understand Nolan's reasoning, particularly because he went on record as saying he didn't want someone else to come in and try to carry on his vision, I feel it only reflects Hollywood's assumption that audiences are too stupid to accept actor or tonal changes from film-to-film, as well as story details not always being consistent when a new creative team takes over.  The real frustration here for me though, is that majority of the biggest film franchises nowadays are derived from comic books, and yet the comic book industry has it figured out.

Every few months or so, most comic books change writers and artists, and when doing that on say Batman, what it leads to is six or so issues of one particular creative Batman vision that's maybe more realistic in tone, and then when the next set of writers and artists take over, Batman is represented with more fantasy and science fiction.  It's like how the Roger Moore Bond films were more campy and more colorful than the realistic Daniel Craig Bond films.  They didn't remake The Spy Who Loved Me with Daniel Craig to re-establish Bond, they just told new stories and never did something as foolish as killing off Bond or have him retire.  Why can't we do this with Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man on film?

This Summer, we're going to be retold Superman's origin story again, with The Man of Steel, but honestly, most of this film will just be a different tonal representation of many similar events from Superman: The Movie or the TV show, Smallville.  Why couldn't Zack Snyder and company have just done a story where Clark Kent was already Superman and a new story was being told between him and the likes of Lois Lane?  The comics do it all the time.  Whenever a new writer comes onboard Superman, they don't start back from the beginning, they just carry on and tell new stories.  While I am not ragging on The Man of Steel without having seen it, I do wonder:  Why restart Superman?  Of course, to do this sort of filmmaking, it will cause the studios to have to rethink how they approach these films.

First and foremost, most of these films have gotten into bad habits of killing off important characters, in particular villains.  I mean, the Joker was killed off at the end of the Tim Burton Batman, and if we were following this type of filmmaking rule, then there would never have been a Heath Ledger Joker.  So obviously, new rules would have to be written.   No killing off of major supporting characters, such as love interests and villains, because if you're doing Superman, audiences expect to see Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, it's just how it is.  The James Bond films have had this figured out for decades now.  Every time there was a new Bond, there was a new Moneypenny, a new M, and a now, a new Q.  However, this does highlight the biggest problem involving the Bond approach to filmmaking.

When you apply the Bond approach to franchise filmmaking, you're boxing yourself in, because you can't have true life and death stakes, because you can't kill of Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson, and you also can't move the characters like Superman and Batman forward, such as Superman and Lois Lane getting married or Batman retiring or dying and someone like Dick Grayson taking up the mantle.  As well, something like Superman is different than James Bond.  In James Bond, we expect a different love interest from film-to-film, but in Superman, there's a very small roster to choose from and fans are either going to expect either Lana Lang or Lois Lane.  On the flip side, the Bond approach has more to offer than constantly retelling the same stories over and over again.  Not to mention, the Bond approach will let filmmakers just go ahead and get into the thick of things, without having to re-establish things that the audiences already know.

The challenge here is that there are pros and cons to the Bond approach.  As the studios move into the future, especially if they want audiences to continue turning out for these big franchise films like Batman or Spider-Man, they need to strike some sort of balance between The Dark Knight trilogy way and the Bond way.  There's only so many times we can be shown Uncle Ben or Bruce Wayne's parents dying before audiences just zone out.  As well, if nothing ever carries over from film-to-film, then you wind up with the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher way of doing Batman, which was generally poorly received.  What needs to be done is maybe have the same creative team do a series of three or four films that are all interconnected in some way, but they don't start back from the beginning and they don't aim to give an end to the hero, but they tell a self-contained story over a few films that has a beginning, middle, and end, to that self-contained story.

For example, say a filmmaker wanted to tell the story of how Superman reveals his secret identity to Lois Lane over the course of three films or something, that would work, and it could be built up through three films, but to do this you don't have to start from Superman's origin.  You could start film one with him already knowing Lois and him already being Superman, and when you end with film three, all he has done is reveal his identity to Lois, he hasn't quit or given up or died, leaving room open for the next filmmaker to come in and give a fresh take.  Of course, I also don't think we should hold any changes that the filmmakers make carry over whenever there is a creative change.  That would be genuinely inhibiting if the next filmmaker that did Superman had to do it with Lois knowing that Clark Kent is Superman.  That may not be that creative team's vision.  So as I said, in an ideal world, there should be a balance, however, that balance probably never will be found and the studios will just continue to reboot and remake.

Ultimately, what I love so much about James Bond, and comic books for that matter, is if someone doesn't like Sean Connery or Roger Moore, then they have Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig.  The same in comics, if you don't like the current Spider-Man writer, well then you might like Stan Lee more.  This is why I would love to see a more Bond-like approach, but as I said above, there needs to be a balance between the two methods, and if that can be found (even though I'm skeptical), I think it will solidify the future of many film franchises.

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