What We Talk About When We Talk About a Reboot

by Shani O. Hilton

Hey all! It's good to be back. The last time I was here, I was preparing to move from New Jersey to D.C. to start a new gig as the associate editor of Campus Progress. I'm all settled in and happy to be spending the week with you guys. I hope it'll be enjoyable for you, educational for me, and easy for Ta-Nehisi. And if you're inclined to keep up with me when I'm not posting, you can catch my writing (in order of frequency) on Twitter, at my own blog, at Campus Progress, and at PostBourgie.

Alright, now that we've gotten the self-promo stuff out of the way, I think it's time to have some real talk about Bond. James Bond.

I must confess: My deep fondness for the James Bond franchise has not extended to the Daniel Craig films. I saw Casino Royale, and hated it. When Quantum of Solace premiered, I didn't even bother. Expressing this opinion earns me pariah status among my peers. But I don't care.

Scott Meslow has an excellent essay on the evolution of James Bond:

But Casino Royale was more than just a simple reboot; it was an aggressive rejection of the series' best-known conventions. There's no banter with familiar characters like Miss Moneypenny or Q to lighten the mood. Le Chiffre, the film's primary villain, doesn't want to rule the world; he wants money, and he's willing to work with terrorists to gain it. When Bond is captured, Le Chiffre's torture method isn't a laser or a shark tank; it's beating Bond's genitals with a knotted rope. And, most significantly, despite Bond's legendary womanizing, much of the film is devoted to an honest-to-god love story (between James Bond and the enigmatic Vesper Lynd). 
Casino Royale's rejection of the series' conventions made it a smash with both critics and audiences, and the franchise drew its then-highest gross ever (and Daniel Craig's second outing as 007, 2008's Quantum of Solace, grossed even more).

It's not that I don't like realism in spy films, or abhor darkness. I found the Bourne series to be thoroughly enjoyable. The problem is my father. To be more specific, the problem is how close we are. Being close to a parent often means one cultivates the same interests as that parent. My dad is a journalist. I'm a journalist. My dad likes old movies. I like old movies. My dad is old-fashioned when it comes to sex and violence on film, and only here do we diverge slightly: While I can handle blood or sexytime on screen, I also have a deep fondness for films and shows where the sex and violence is left out or implied.

Which brings us to Bond. My favorite is Roger Moore, followed closely by Pierce Brosnan, the Bond of my formative years. (Dad has a soft spot for George Lazenby, but who doesn't?). I adore the silliness, the suggestiveness, and the camp that Bond has provided over the last 40 years. Even as the plots became more and more ludicrous, and the CGI more prominent, there was a warmth in the first 20 films that was lacking in the Craig version.

Last year, I argued against a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot. Having some distance from the immediate argument, I now think what generally sets me against reboots is this: I don't like change. But more than that, a false sense of ownership over art is the driving factor. How dare my Bond get rebooted for these jokers who don't know that in You Only Live Twice, Bond had surgery to create an epicanthic fold in order to make him look Japanese? (Yes, this is where Sean Connery lost me.) How dare my Bond get rebooted for fools who haven't forced themselves to watch the utterly absurd Moonraker (aka James Bond in Space!)? How dare my Bond get rebooted for people who just want another generic action flick that removes most of what makes 007 what it is?

I know how silly this all sounds. I know that the arguments -- in addition to the financial ones -- for reboots are compelling. I have friends who say that breathing new life into a franchise and exposing more people to it is an unalloyed good. The newly imagined Batman universe is certainly a point in their favor. But I just can't help how I feel. And I'm starting to  think that what we talk about when we talk about a reboot is the essence of how and why pop culture moves us.

Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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